Tech

The ‘creepy’ change happening to millions of iPhones

A “creepy-sounding setting” was automatically turned on iPhones across the world in Apple’s latest software update.

The setting, ‘Discoverable by Others’, can be found under ‘Journalling Suggestions’ in an iPhone’s privacy and security settings.

Journalling Suggestions goes hand-in-hand with the new Journal app, released as a part of iOS 17.2 in December last year.

If an iPhone user turns the feature on, Apple explains it uses historical data stored on their phone – such as music, photos, workouts, who they have called or texted, and significant locations – to give them suggestions of what moments to write about in the Journal app.

Hand holding the newly introduced iPhone 15 Pro at the Apple campus in Cupertino, California on September 12, 2023
The journalling function on the iPhone has been deemed “creepy.” AP

However, even if you don’t turn on Journalling Suggestions, the ‘Discoverable by Others’ feature is enabled by default. This is also the case if you have deleted the Journal app.

Joanna Stern, senior personal technology columnist at The Wall Street Journal, says it’s not as scary as it sounds – but suggests you might want to turn it off anyway.

Stern decided to look into the feature, which was creating a stir online, and was told by Apple the phone can use Bluetooth to detect devices nearby in your contacts, without storing which of these specific contacts were around, and use this as context to improve Journalling Suggestions.

Apple denied it was sharing users’ names and locations with others as some people have claimed on social media.

Apple used the example of hosting a dinner party at your house, with friends who are in your contacts.

A screenshot of the 'Discoverable by Others' setting in an iPhone's privacy and security settings, related to iOS 17.2 update
The journalling suggestions setting allows you to be “Discoverable by Others.”

The company said the system might prioritize the event in Journalling Suggestions, as it recognises it was not just your average night at home with your family because of the headcount.

“Even if this all makes sense to avid journalers (I haven’t met any), why does Apple have ‘discoverable’ on by default?” Stern asked. “Why not just ask me when I turn on Journaling Suggestions?”

To that, the Apple spokeswoman told Stern it was done so users get this benefit, regardless of whether their friends and people around them are using the Journal app or not.

Apple’s support page explains that if you disable ‘Discoverable by Others’ to not to be included in your contacts’ counts, ‘Prefer Suggestions with Others’ will also be disabled, which means Journalling Suggestions will not detect how many devices and contacts are around you.