Apple iPhone 11 Pro ‘can override location settings’

Apple’s flagship iPhone 11 Pro tracks users’ locations even when they have set it not to, a security researcher has discovered.

Brian Krebs found that the phone collects data about a user’s position even if location sharing has been turned off in every individual app.

However, the user could avoid being tracked if the entire system was set to never share location.

Apple said it was “expected behaviour” and denied it was a security problem.

The company has made big play of the fact that it allows users granular control over sharing their location – so for instance they can have location switched on for Maps but off for everything else.

Mr Krebs found users could disable all location services entirely via Settings>Privacy>Location Services, but if they chose the individual controls, they might still be tracked.

“One of the more curious behaviours of Apple’s new iPhone 11 Pro is that it intermittently seeks the user’s location information even when all applications and system services on the phone are individually set to never request this data,” Mr Krebs wrote on his blog.

He contacted Apple to report the issue, sharing a video which showed the location services icon on, even though every app and system service was set to “never request” this information.

An engineer replied: “We do not see any actual security implications. It is expected behaviour that the locations services icon appears in the status bar when location services is enabled,” adding that some system services “do not have a switch in Settings”.

That, argued Mr Krebs “seems at odds with the company’s own privacy policy”.

In 2018, Google was found to be recording locations even when users had asked it not to.

In a report from Associated Press, a Princeton University researcher tracked his daily commute and found that Google saved location markers even though location history had been turned off.

To disable this entirely, users had to switch off another setting called Web and App Activity, which was enabled by default and did not mention location data.

Three investigating loss of phone services

Mobile network Three has acknowledged it is experiencing “technical difficulties with voice, text and data”, leaving many customers offline.

The problems appear to have started on Wednesday evening, according to the Down Detector website. Customers across the UK have taken to social media to complain about the loss of service.

Three apologised for the problem and said it was “sorting this out right now”.

“Our engineers are working to fix the issue and the service is returning to normal, and we expect it to be resolved over the course of the day. We advise our customers to turn their phones off and on or turn airplane mode on and off, which may resolve the issue,” it said in a statement.

The problems, which are nationwide, started after some maintenance work on Three’s network infrastructure. It is not sure how many of its 10 million customers are affected.

On Wednesday, rival network O2 switched on its next-generation 5G service in a number of UK cities. Three tagged O2 in a tweet saying: “Oi, did you unplug our network so you could plug in your 5G? not cool guys.”

One customer said the joke would have been “cute” if the problems had not been ongoing for more than nine hours.

So many customers tried to access the status checker on Three’s website that it was temporarily unavailable on Thursday morning. A queuing system has been switched on, to limit access to the tool.

“History shows that once service is restored people quickly forget about the issues,” said Ben Wood, an analyst at the CCS Insight consultancy. “The challenge for Three UK will be getting its network back online reliably. Often it can take time for things to stabilise after such a massive outage, which can lead to intermittent service for a period of time after the original problems.”

Giffgaff fined £1.4m for overcharging customers

Ofcom has today fined the mobile company Giffgaff £1.4m, for overcharging millions of customers.

The fine follows an Ofcom investigation. We found that an error in Giffgaff’s billing system led to around 2.6 million customers being overcharged up to a total of almost £2.9m.

Giffgaff is owned by Telefónica UK, which trades as mobile network O2. Giffgaff uses O2’s network to provide mobile services to its customers.

Gaucho Rasmussen, Ofcom’s Director of Investigations and Enforcement, said: “Getting bills right is a basic duty for every phone company. But Giffgaff made unacceptable mistakes, leaving millions of customers out of pocket.

“This fine should serve as a warning to all communications providers: if they get bills wrong, we’ll step in to protect customers.”

Fine and customer refunds
Giffgaff has already refunded around £2.1m to affected customers. In lieu of those customers it has not been able to trace and refund, it has donated the money to charity. Customers who consider they are still due a refund may wish to contact the company.

Ofcom’s fine incorporates a 30% reduction as Giffgaff agreed to settle the case and admitted the breach identified.

The reduced penalty also recognises that, in line with good industry practice, Giffgaff reported the matter to Ofcom promptly when it realised its mistakes, and took active steps to fix the problem and refund customers.

What went wrong
Giffgaff customers can pre-pay for bundles of voice minutes, text messages and data – known as ‘goodybags’. They can also purchase pre-paid top-up credit.

Ofcom rules require telecoms providers to bill customers accurately for the services they use.[1] But in this case, customers who bought a ‘goodybag’ bundle, while using their pre-paid credit, were overcharged.

This was because there was a delay in Giffgaff applying the bundle purchase to their accounts. It meant that any voice calls customers were making, or the data they were using at the time, came out of their pre-paid credit. These services should have been free immediately from the point the bundle was purchased – so the customers were effectively charged twice.

Giffgaff applied the ‘goodybag’ bundle to a customer’s account only once they ended the voice call they were on, or when they started a new data session – for example, by turning their phone off and back on again.

Next steps
The fine, which must be paid to Ofcom within 20 working days, will be passed on to HM Treasury.

During the course of our investigation, Giffgaff failed to provide accurate information in response to two statutory information requests issued by Ofcom. So we have also today imposed an additional penalty of £50,000 on Giffgaff for these contraventions.

End it with a text: easy mobile switching from Monday

At the moment, people wanting to switch mobile operator and keep their phone number usually have to call their current provider to request a ‘porting authorisation code’ (PAC). But many find themselves frustrated by unwanted attempts to persuade them to stay.

New Ofcom research reveals that nearly a third (31%) of mobile switchers find it difficult to cancel their previous service. This is the biggest obstacle to switching people face.[1]

Of the people who consider switching but then choose not to, 45% decide switching would be too time consuming; and 39% are put off by the hassle of needing to contact more than one provider.

Our new ‘text-to-switch’ process makes it quicker and easier for people to leave their mobile company, by giving customers control over how much contact they have with their existing provider. This is how it works:

Text 'PAC' to 65075 and you'll receive your switching code, along with any important information (e.g. early termination charges). Your new provider can use this code to switch your service.

Text ‘PAC’ to 65075 – and keep your mobile number

If a customer wants to switch and keep their existing phone number, they just text ‘PAC’ to 65075 to begin the process.

Their existing provider will respond by text within a minute. They will be sent their switching code (PAC), which will be valid for 30 days.[2] The provider’s reply must also include important information about any early termination charges or pay-as-you-go credit balances.

The customer then gives the code to their new provider, and this company must arrange for the switch to complete within one working day.

The new process is designed to be quick and easy, so customers could request their code while looking for a new deal – for example, while on the phone to a new provider, or in store.

Text ‘STAC’ to 75075 – and get a new mobile number

While most people want to keep their mobile number when they switch, around one in six do not. These customers can text ‘STAC’ to 75075 to request a ‘service termination authorisation code’. The rest of the process is the same as above. This takes away the hassle of having to talk to your current provider if you simply want to leave them.

Text ‘INFO’ to 85075 – and find out more

If someone is not sure whether they are still ‘in contract’, and would have to pay any early termination charges, they can simply text ‘INFO’ to 85075 to find this out without requesting a switching code.

Notice-period charges banned

The second biggest hurdle switchers face (after cancelling their previous service) is trying to avoid paying their old and new mobile companies at the same time – with three in ten customers finding this difficult.

So, from Monday, Ofcom has banned mobile providers from charging for notice periods running after the switch date. This will save UK mobile customers a combined £10m each year.

Customers need to give their new provider the PAC or STAC number, so their old and new mobile companies can make sure there is no double payment.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, said: “Breaking up with your mobile provider has never been easier thanks to Ofcom’s new rules. You won’t need to have that awkward chat with your current provider to take advantage of the great deals available.”

Broadband speeds boost for UK homes

UK households are benefiting from faster, more reliable internet as new Ofcom research reveals average broadband speeds have jumped nearly 20% in the last year.

Ofcom’s annual home broadband performance report compares how different broadband packages perform, using data from monitors installed on people’s broadband routers.[1]

For the first time, the average download speeds people receive has passed the 50 Mbit/s mark – rising by 18% in the last year to 54.2 Mbit/s.

Upload speeds, which are increasingly important as more people look to work from home or share videos online, have also increased – up 15% to 7.2 Mbit/s. Both download and upload speeds have more than doubled in the last five years.

The fastest speeds recorded in the research were from Virgin Media’s VIVID 350 cable package, with average peak time speeds hitting 360.2 Mbit/s. BT’s 300 Mbit/s full-fibre package was second fastest, with an average peak time speed of 300.6 Mbit/s. This package was top for average peak time upload speeds at 48.8 Mbit/s.

In 2018 the average download speed was 54.2 Mbit/s and the average upload speed was 7.2 Mbit/s.

Super streamers

Our research also looked at how different broadband packages affect people’s experience of streaming video content. People using superfast connections or faster were able to stream Netflix films or shows in ultra-high definition (UHD) without buffering in almost every case.

But only one-in-10 homes with basic, copper broadband are able to stream their favourite shows in UHD.

With more than nine-in-ten UK homes and small businesses now able to get superfast connections, many on standard broadband could improve their streaming experience by upgrading – often without paying more than they do now. Ofcom’s Boost Your Broadbandcampaign allows people to easily check what broadband is available in their area, see what broadband is best for their needs and get advice on how to secure the right deal for them.

Full speed ahead for full fibre

Full-fibre packages, where fibre cables run all the way from the exchange to people’s homes, performed better than equivalent copper-based packages in almost every measure – including both download and upload speeds.

Older, copper-based broadband services are more likely to suffer a drop in speed during evenings when more people are getting online.

To help increase the availability of full fibre across the UK we have introduced a package of measures to support investment in full fibre, and make it quicker and easier for companies to build their networks.

Yih-Choung Teh, Strategy and Research Group Director at Ofcom, said: “Broadband comes in lots of flavours these days: copper, superfast, cable and full fibre. Which kind you choose can really affect your online experience.

“So we’re encouraging people to visit our dedicated Boost Your Broadband website, to find out how they could get faster broadband, for the same or less than they pay now.”

Countdown to the new broadband safety net

Everyone in the UK will have the legal right to request a decent and affordable broadband connection from March next year, Ofcom has confirmed.

Ofcom are implementing the UK Government’s ‘universal broadband service’ – a safety net that will give eligible homes and businesses a legal right to request a decent connection.

Through legislation, brought in last year, those households will be able to request better broadband, capable of delivering download speeds of at least 10 Mbit/s, and upload speeds of at least 1 Mbit/s. These speeds will be reviewed over time, as the amount of data people use changes.

As of today, 620,000 homes and offices, or 2%, would benefit from the new scheme, although this number is decreasing as broadband networks are upgraded. These homes are among the most remote in the UK, or are far away from current broadband networks, which means they currently struggle to get a decent broadband service.

They have decided that BT and KCOM are best placed to meet the challenges of providing universal service connections. So BT will be responsible for connecting properties in the whole of the UK except the Hull area, where KCOM will be the designated provider.

Ofcom have given BT and KCOM until 20 March next year to make the necessary preparations, including changes to their systems and processes, to start building these connections. From that date, people can start making requests.

When someone makes a request, BT or KCOM will have 30 days to confirm whether the customer is eligible. This will involve establishing whether the property already has access to decent broadband, at an affordable price; or if it is due to be connected by a publicly-funded scheme within 12 months.

Once confirmed, BT or KCOM will have to deliver the connection as quickly as possible. We have set strict targets on how long they can take.[3]

Under the legislation for the new service, the cost of providing connections to eligible homes will be paid for up to £3,400.

If the required work costs more than that, customers can either pay the additional costs or seek an alternative solution outside the universal service, such as satellite broadband.

Customers who are connected through the new universal service will pay the same prices and receive the same service quality as other broadband customers who have an equivalent connection.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, said: “As more of our daily lives move online, bringing better broadband to people and businesses is crucial. From next year, this new broadband safety net will give everyone a legal right to request a decent connection – whether you live in a city or a hamlet. This will be vital for people who are struggling to get the broadband they need.”

The UK Government wants the universal service to be funded by the whole industry. So, in the autumn, we will consult on which other companies would contribute to a fund, and in what proportions, to pay for any costs that it would not be appropriate for BT or KCOM to cover.

Broadband coverage is improving all the time. Around 95% of homes and small businesses can access superfast broadband, which offers download speeds of at least 30 Mbit/s. More than half can get ultrafast speeds (at least 300 Mbit/s). However, the safety net is needed for the 2% of homes and offices that can’t get decent broadband.

Implementing the universal broadband service is part of Ofcom’s programme of work to help everyone in the UK benefit from better mobile phone and broadband services.

Britain’s biggest broadband and phone firms to put fairness first

The UK’s biggest broadband, phone and pay TV companies have committed to put fairness at the heart of their business, after signing up to Ofcom’s new Fairness for Customers commitments.

Ofcom has developed the commitments to strengthen how companies treat their customers. They aim to help ensure people are always treated fairly by their provider – whether they are signing up to a new deal, trying to fix a problem or switching to a new company.

All of the UK’s biggest providers have signed-up to the commitments including: BT; EE; Giffgaff; O2; Plusnet; Post Office; Sky; TalkTalk; Tesco Mobile; Three; Virgin Media and Vodafone. This covers the vast majority of broadband, mobile, pay-TV and home phone customers.

Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “I welcome the commitments the providers have made, and the action they’re taking to ensure customers are treated fairly every step of the way.

“Great service cannot be optional. It has to be the norm. That hasn’t always happened in the past in broadband and mobile services, but there is now a growing belief from providers that putting customers first is paramount.”

Margot James, Minister for Digital, said: “I’m pleased that all the major telecoms providers have signed up to Ofcom’s commitments today. They will not only help consumers get fairer deals, but will support competition by making sure providers work to the same objectives and compete on standards.”

Caroline Normand, Which? Director of Advocacy, said: “Until now too many people have received a raw deal from their broadband or mobile phone supplier. So it’s a positive step that all the major players have signed up to Ofcom’s new fairness commitments.

“Confusing and unfair terms, poor customer support and overcharging are just some of the problems people tell us they have experienced. Providers now have the opportunity to make things right for their customers by committing to offer good service, fair treatment and a straightforward solution when things go wrong.

“If you are unhappy with your current provider or think you are paying too much you should look to switch. A few minutes of your time could save you a lot of hassle and possibly hundreds of pounds a year.”

All three will be speaking on these points at a joint Ofcom and Which? event on Fairness for Customers today (Monday 3 June). This will bring together Ofcom, the UK’s leading communications companies, government, consumer groups and charities to promote fairness across the industry.

The commitments in full

  1. Customers get a fair deal, which is right for their needs. Providers offer customers packages that fit their needs and have a fair approach to pricing. Prices are clear and easy to understand;
  2. Customers get the support they need when their circumstances make them vulnerable. Providers understand and identify the characteristics, circumstances and needs of vulnerable customers – such as vulnerability due to a disability, age, mental illness or having recently been bereaved – and act to give them fair treatment and equal access to services too;
  3. Customers are supported to make well-informed decisions with clear information about their options before, during, and at the end of their contract. Providers design and send communications in a way that reflects an understanding of how customers generally react to information so that they can understand and engage with the market;
  4. Customers’ services work as promised, reliably over time. If things go wrong providers give a prompt response to fix problems and take appropriate action to help their customers, which may include providing compensation where relevant. If providers can’t fix problems with core services they have promised to deliver within a reasonable period, customers can walk away from their contract with no penalty;
  5. Customers can sign up to, change and leave their services quickly and smoothly. Providers ensure that customers who are leaving do not face additional barriers or hassle compared to those who are signing up to new services;
  6. Customers can be confident that fair treatment is a central part of their provider’s culture. Companies can demonstrate that they have the right procedures in place to ensure customers are treated well. They keep these effective and up-to-date.

The commitments are a vital part of Ofcom’s work to help ensure companies treat their customers fairly. Many are already underpinned by existing consumer law and Ofcom’s rules. We will be monitoring companies’ practices closely and will step in where we see firms falling short.

The commitments represent the latest action from Ofcom’s Fairness for Customers programme, which also includes:

  • money back for broadband and landline customers when things go wrong;
  • clear, honest information for broadband shoppers – before they commit to a contract – about what speeds they will get;
  • confirming new rules to make sure people get the right information, at the right time to find the best deal for them;
  • a major information campaign, Boost Your Broadband, to help people get faster broadband and save money; and
  • new rules from 1 July so mobile phone customers can change their provider with a simple text.

Further ongoing work includes proposals to ensure clearer, fairer deals for people who buy mobile handsets bundled alongside airtime. Ofcom will announce the next steps for this later this summer.

People’s online experiences revealed

Internet users in the UK are increasingly worried about being online, new research suggests, with around four in every five harbouring concerns.

The joint study by Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office indicates the proportion of adults concerned about using the internet has risen since last year, from 59% to 78%.

Similarly, 61% of adults have had a potentially harmful online experience in the past year. The figure rises to 79% among children aged 12-15.

Most adults (59%) however, agree that the benefits of going online outweigh the risks, and 61% of children think that the internet makes their lives better.

The findings are included in Ofcom’s first annual Online Nation report – an in-depth study of how people use the internet. The report examines how people are served by internet content and services, and their attitudes towards being online.

People’s online time is growing by around 7% annually. The average UK adult spent 3 hours 15 minutes per day online last year – a rise of 11 minutes since 2017. That translates to 1,192 hours over the year: the equivalent of around 50 days on the internet.

The internet has transformed our working and social lives, making it easier and cheaper to communicate, and create and share content and information. Each week:

  • 44 million of us use the internet to send or receive email and 29 million send instant messages;
  • 30 million people bank or pay bills via the internet;
  • 27 million of us shop online; and
  • 21 million people download information for work, school or university.
Spam emails is the most common potential online harm (34%) encountered by adults

Despite these benefits, most people have also had potentially harmful online experiences. The potential online harms most commonly encountered by adults were unsolicited emails (34% experienced in the past year), fake news (25%) and scams or fraud (22%).

Among children, 39% experienced offensive language online; 28% had received unwelcome friend requests; 23% encountered cyber-bullying; and 20% had encountered trolling.[5]

Ofcom also studied where people come across their most recent potentially harmful experience. Social media is the leading source – in particular Facebook, which is cited by 28% of its adult users, followed by Instagram (16%) and Twitter (12%).[6]

61% of adults and 79% of children (12-15) have experienced potential online harms in the last 12 months, the largest proportion of which on social media sites/apps

Only 40% of adults agree that websites and social media sites provide the tools needed to keep them safe online, although this rises to 55% of children.

Support for greater online regulation also appears to have increased in a range of areas. Most adults favour tighter rules for social media sites (70% in 2019, up from 52% in 2018); video-sharing sites (64% v. 46%); and instant-messaging services (61% v. 40%).

However, nearly half (47%) of adult internet users recognise that websites and social media platforms play an important role in supporting free speech, even where some people might find content offensive.

Yih-Choung Teh, Group Director of Strategy and Research at Ofcom, said: “As most of us spend more time than ever online, we’re increasingly worried about harmful content – and also more likely to come across it.

“For most people, those risks are still outweighed by the huge benefits of the internet. And while most internet users favour tighter rules in some areas, particularly social media, people also recognise the importance of protecting free speech – which is one of the internet’s great strengths.”

Further Ofcom rules to support fibre investment

Companies laying high-speed fibre cables for broadband and mobile networks will benefit from greater access to Openreach’s telegraph poles and underground tunnels, under draft decisions announced today by Ofcom.

Openreach, which maintains the UK’s main broadband network, is already required to let rival companies use its telegraph poles and underground ‘ducts’ to lay their own fibre networks, under rules set by Ofcom last year.

Until now, this measure – which can cut the upfront cost of building full-fibre networks by around half – has been available to companies focusing on residential and small-business customers. Today’s draft decision would extend it to firms serving large businesses, as well as companies laying high-speed lines that support mobile and broadband networks.

Virgin Media, TalkTalk and CityFibre are among the firms already using Openreach’s ducts and poles to connect thousands of homes and businesses to faster, more reliable broadband. Between them, competing providers are using around 12,000 Openreach telegraph poles and 2,500 km of underground duct.

Extending access to business networks would allow companies to use Openreach’s infrastructure for all telecoms services, improving the business case for them to invest in cutting edge, full fibre and 5G networks.

Ultrafast broadband, which offers download speeds of at least 300 Mbit/s, is now available to more than half of homes in the UK. Full fibre, a form of ultrafast broadband that uses fibre cables all the way from the exchange to people’s homes, is now available to 7% of UK properties. And while the number of full-fibre lines more than doubled last year, Ofcom wants to see coverage extended to millions of properties in the coming months.

They are also refreshing their regulation of ‘leased lines’ – high-speed data connections used by large organisations, which form the backbone of the UK’s mobile and broadband networks.

Under draft decision, in areas of the country where Openreach faces limited competition from other leased-line networks, we would continue to regulate what it can charge providers to use these services, keeping prices flat. We would also impose strict requirements on Openreach for repairs and installations, to ensure high service standards are delivered.

Also, in many areas, there are no rival networks present at BT’s exchanges. Even with duct and pole access, network competition is unlikely to emerge for connections from these exchanges. Here, Openreach would be required to give competitors physical access to its fibre-optic cables, at a price that reflects its costs.

This service is called ‘dark fibre’, because the cables are ‘lit’ by competitors with their own equipment. Introducing dark fibre in only these areas would significantly reduce the cost for mobile and broadband operators to connect their networks, without undermining their incentives to lay new, competing fibre cables where it is economic to do so.

Where there is stronger network competition, or prospective competition, regulation would be lighter than existing rules, to allow this competition to flourish.

Jonathan Oxley, Ofcom’s Competition Group Director, said: “The amount of internet data used by people in the UK is expanding by around half every year. So, we’ll need faster, more reliable connections for our homes, offices and mobile networks. Our measures are designed to support the UK’s digital future by providing investment certainty for continued competitive investment in fibre and 5G networks across the country.”

Today’s measures are the latest in Ofcom’s programme of work to support long-term investment nationwide in full-fibre networks.

Today’s draft decisions follow Ofcom’s reviews of the physical infrastructure and business connectivity markets. The new regulations will cover the period from our final decisions, until April 2021.

As required for all market reviews, The draft decisions have been submitted to the European Commission for comment, after which Ofcom will publish a final statement next month.

They intend to consult in December on detailed proposals for a single, holistic residential and business telecoms market review, covering the period 2021 to 2026.

Broadband, phone and pay TV firms must tell customers about their best deals

Broadband, phone and TV customers must be told when their contract is coming to an end, and shown the best deals available, under new rules announced today by Ofcom.

Ofcom wants customers to be able to take advantage of choice in broadband, phone and TV, and get the best deals for their needs. This could be by switching provider or agreeing a new deal with their existing one.

To help people do this, we are requiring broadband, TV, mobile and home phone companies to send their customers the information they need about their contract, when they need it, so they can choose the best package for them.[2] These protections are the latest in Ofcom’s Fairness for customers programme.

Ofcom research shows that more than 20 million customers have passed their initial contract period. Many of these could be paying more than they need to.

People who bundle their landline and broadband services together pay, on average, around 20% more when they are ‘out of contract’. This rises to 26% among customers who bundle their pay TV with these two services.

Around one in seven customers (14%) don’t know whether they are still tied to their original deal; and around one in eight (12%) believe they are ‘in contract’, but don’t know when this period ends.

Therefore, Ofcom has stepped in to ensure fairness for customers, by forcing telecoms and pay TV companies to warn customers between 10 and 40 days before their contract comes to an end. These alerts will be sent by text, email or letter. They will include:

  • the contract end date;
  • the price paid before this date;
  • any changes to the service and price paid at the end of this period;
  • information about any notice period required to terminate the contract; and
  • the best deals offered by their provider, including telling loyal customers what prices are available to new customers.

People who choose to stay with their provider without signing up to a new contract will be sent a reminder every year about their firm’s best deals.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, said: “We’re making sure customers are treated fairly, by making companies give them the information they need, when they need it. This will put power in the hands of millions of people who’re paying more than necessary when they’re no longer tied to a contract.”

The changes will involve providers sending personalised and tailored information to millions of individual customers. To make sure they get this right, companies will have nine months to make the necessary changes to their systems and processes. Customers will start receiving the notifications from 15 February next year.

On 1 July 2019, new rules will come into effect that will make it quicker and easier to switch mobile provider.