iOS 17 Could Restrict Some Popular Features Based on Your Location

And the implications could be far-reaching

  • Apple's "countryd" tool lets your iPhone know which country it is in. 
  • This will allow Apple to turn features off based on your location. 
  • It will probably ensure "sideloading" can only work in the EU. 
Someone using a smartphone while out cycling on a city street.

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In iOS 17, Apple will be able to restrict your iPhone's features based on your location to comply with local laws. 

It's called "countryd," and it determines your location based on GPS, the country code of any Wi-Fi router you are connected to, and SIM card data. IT will be used, says 9to5 Mac's Filipe Espósito, to turn Apple's upcoming app sideloading feature on and off. And once this location-based feature-locking system is up and running, governments will surely want to use it for their own ends. 

"Apple's move to disable features based on location is not entirely unprecedented, but it does raise some valid concerns about the potential for abuse and the balance between compliance and user privacy," attorney Min Hwan Ahn told Lifewire via email.

Apple's Sideloading

Apple is working on something called 'sideloading' for the iPhone. This means that phone users will be able to install apps from sources other than Apple's App Store. In my recent coverage of this news, we saw that Apple only plans to switch on this feature in countries where the law requires it. At the moment, that will be any country in the EU. 

Apple has already deployed other location-based restrictions. For example, in Japan, it made it impossible to mute the camera shutter sound, to stop surreptitious "upskirt" shots on the metro. Apple also restricts some features based on your iPhone's language settings. For example, if your phone is set to US English, you can get access to some US-only features. 

We do already see a lot of location-based blocking of certain websites... it would make it much harder for people to get around such blockades

But building a robust country-detecting framework is another level entirely. For one, it shows that Apple takes its own App Store monopoly a lot more seriously than, say, Japan's anti-pervert laws, which are easy to work around with a quick Google. For another, the countryd framework could very easily be exploited by governments to ensure compliance. 

"We do already see a lot of location-based blocking of certain websites, like how some universities or even companies will block sites deemed inappropriate for any devices on their network, so this kind of censorship isn't entirely new. However, it would make it much harder for people to get around such blockades," Ben Michael, attorney at Michael and Associates, told Lifewire via email.

Location-Based Feature Control

Determining your location in order to enforce laws is harder than it seems. The actual location part is fairly straightforward, and a phone can also know if it is connected to a cellular or Wi-Fi network in a particular country (for handling devices near borders). But as we saw recently with Montana's TikTok ban, it can be hard to enforce. 

For example, if an app is banned in Montana, how can Apple or Google enforce that? Is it only valid if the user's account was registered while in the state? Or to a Montana address? What about when they leave Montana? Apple's countryd answers these questions. You could just switch off TikTok inside the state. And this obviously applies to any other local law. 

Someone holding a mobile phone with a map and their location projected above it, with a blurred city in the background.

B4lls / Getty Images

"Location-based feature control can enhance privacy and security. For example, enforcing camera shutter sounds in Japan can minimize the risk of unauthorized photography. Disabling FaceTime in the UAE ensures compliance with local communication restrictions. This functionality can protect both company and employee data while maintaining user privacy," cybersecurity consultant Tim Dubman told Lifewire via email. 

This raises questions about who should be enforcing laws. On the one hand, it's good that big tech is finally taking local laws seriously. On the other hand, is it a phone vendor's business how I use my phone? 

And what about the world outside of phones? Perhaps cars could automatically comply with speed limits inside cities? That would fix speeding and save a ton of money in enforcement (although local police departments would lose their income from speeding tickets). The possible scenarios for this kind of technology are endless.

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