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For Developers, Headaches from Apple’s New Location Warnings

Before Apple pushed out its iOS 8 update, developers at fitness app RunKeeper faced a tough choice. Unless they changed their app, people would be asked if the app could track their location even when they weren't using it—which could prompt them to opt out.

“It sounds like a confusing and almost nefarious thing,” says Max Freiert, the company’s director of product. He says the company wanted permission to use that location data in case it wanted to offer features like notifications when a person attends a workout in the same places as their friends.

RunKeeper decided to change how the product worked. It now asks users for their location data only when they are using the app. “We were frustrated that we had to make this change,” says Mr. Freiert, although he says he understands why Apple changed its privacy options.

Apple’s new iOS 8 operating system gives users more choices about when apps can track their locations, a feature that helps protect user data. But it has also left developers—and some of Apple’s competitors—scrambling to figure out how to prevent more people from restricting their location data. 

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Dhruv Chopra, who makes the location-tracking app Route Tracker, said that the prompts could ensure apps aren’t used for nefarious purposes. “We've run into cases where people were tricked into being tracked by a jealous spouse or not-so-good friend,” he said in an email. “This would definitely prevent misuse.”

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Apple isn’t providing the same level of warning around its own apps. For instance, when Google Maps is using location data without being open, a banner flashes: “Google maps is using your location.” For Apple Maps, the message is friendlier: “Touch to return to navigation.”