Fact Check

Do an iPhone's 'Journaling Suggestions' Settings Reveal Your Name and Location to Strangers?

A viral warning was shared on Facebook in early 2024 that said a relatively new app named Journal posed a possible criminal threat to iPhone users.

Published March 1, 2024

An advertisement for the new Apple iPhone 15 models is displayed in the Apple The Grove store on the phone’s worldwide release day on Sept. 22, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. The four new iPhone handsets feature a titanium frame, 48 megapixel main camera, and a USB-C charging cable. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) (Mario Tama/Getty Images and iOS 17.2)
Image Via Mario Tama/Getty Images and iOS 17.2
Claim:
A privacy feature for the Journal app on iPhone devices with iOS 17.2 and later that's labeled "Discoverable by Others" under "Journaling Suggestions" allows strangers to track your name and location.

On Dec. 11, 2023, Apple released its iOS 17.2 update for iPhone devices. That fresh software update came with the launch of the new private diary app that the company named Journal. As often happens with new or updated electronic devices and features, the launch prompted unfounded rumors warning that the app presented serious privacy and/or security hazards to users. 

"Journal, a new iPhone app available today, helps users reflect and practice gratitude through journaling, which has been shown to improve wellbeing," the company's announcement read. "With Journal, users can capture and write about everyday moments and special events in their lives, and include photos, videos, audio recordings, locations and more to create rich memories. On-device machine learning provides private, personalized suggestions to inspire journal entries and customizable notifications help users develop their writing habits."

On Jan. 2, 2024, the official YouTube channel for Apple Support posted a video showing how iPhone users can easily get started with the new app.

Included with the Journal app is the ability to receive suggestions for entries that could possibly be written about, as the video above mentions. For users who have installed iOS 17.2 or later, those suggestion types are listed under Settings > Privacy and Security > Journaling Suggestions. They include Activity (your workouts and exercise), Media (podcasts and music you listen to), Contacts (people you message and call), Photos (library, memories and shared photos) and Significant Locations (places where you spend time). These five settings are enabled by default.

Users who write their private entries in Journal can also receive suggestions associated with people who were nearby to them during the day. Two such settings are Prefer Suggestions with Others, which includes "moments you share with your contacts or large groups," and Discoverable by Others, which is described as "[allowing] others to detect your are nearby to help prioritize their suggestions." These two settings are also enabled by default.

A feature on iPhone labeled as Discoverable by Others under Journaling Suggestions allows strangers to track your name and location.The top and bottom of the suggestions settings.

Regarding the latter setting, Discoverable by Others, in February 2024 it became the subject of a viral Facebook rumor. A search of Facebook for the words "Journaling Suggestions" found no shortage of scared users warning their friends of the purported threat posed by the privacy setting.

A feature on iPhone labeled as Discoverable by Others under Journaling Suggestions allows strangers to track your name and location.

Those users commonly shared an image that displayed the following text:

ALERT. If you have an iPhone, this is important! After my latest update, there was a new feature downloaded called "Journaling," and it's under "Settings," "Privacy and Security" and then scroll all the way down and there's a new "feature" called "Journaling Suggestions." Look for the "DISCOVERABLE BY OTHERS" toggle. I bet it's toggled to ON, and it let's anyone near you know your FULL NAME and EXACTLY where you're geo located. Go toggle that OFF!! I'm typing all of this. This is messed up big time. Share with your friends if they're iPhone. Very scary stuff!! PSA ... CHECK YOUR IPHONES.

However, this Facebook rumor was false. This was nothing more than the latest rumor about iPhone privacy settings to lead a long scrolling of commenters to say that they're going to turn the setting off "just to be safe."

Just two inches above the same Discoverable by Others toggle that so many users were choosing to manually disable, Apple included a link that led to more information on a page named "Journaling Suggestions & Privacy."

On that page, Apple specified that suggestions for the Journal app use Bluetooth – a short-range communication method. Also, the technology "[detects] the number of devices and contacts around you without storing which of these specific contacts were around." In other words, there was no indication that strangers would be allowed to see a name or track a person's location.

The page read as follows:

Nearby People

Journaling Suggestions may also use contextual information to determine which suggestions may be more meaningful or relevant to you. Journaling Suggestions uses Bluetooth to detect the number of devices and contacts around you without storing which of these specific contacts were around. This information is used to improve and prioritize your suggestions. It is stored on device, and is not shared with Apple. You can choose not to allow Journaling Suggestions to use the number of devices and contacts around you to prioritize your suggestions by going to Settings > Privacy & Security > Journaling Suggestions, then tapping to turn off Prefer Suggestions with Others.

You can also control whether your contacts include you in their number of nearby contacts by going to Settings > Privacy & Security > Journaling Suggestions, then tapping to turn off Discoverable by Others. If you disable Discoverable by Others and choose not to be included in your contacts' counts, Prefer Suggestions with Others will also be disabled and Journaling Suggestions will not detect how many devices and contacts are around you to improve or prioritize your suggestions.

Snopes emailed Apple to ask about this rumor and will update this story if we receive a response.

For further reading, we previously reported about a very similar social media scare that also involved iPhones, privacy and a misunderstood feature.

Sources

"Apple Launches Journal App, a New App for Reflecting on Everyday Moments." Apple Newsroom, 11 Dec. 2023, https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2023/12/apple-launches-journal-app-a-new-app-for-reflecting-on-everyday-moments/.

"How to Use Journal on Your iPhone." YouTube, Apple Support, 2 Jan. 2024, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EtNDO-JDME.

"Legal - Journaling Suggestions & Privacy - Apple." Apple Legal, https://www.apple.com/legal/privacy/data/en/journaling-suggestions/.

MacRumors. "Hands-On With the New Journal App in the iOS 17.2 Beta." MacRumors Forums, 26 Oct. 2023, https://www.macrumors.com/2023/10/26/ios-17-2-journal-app-hands-on/.

Peterson, Jake. "Don't Worry, Apple's Journal App Probably Isn't a Privacy Nightmare." Lifehacker, 29 Feb. 2024, https://lifehacker.com/tech/apples-journal-app-discoverable-by-others.

Whitney, Lance. "Write It Out: How to Use Apple's Journal App in iOS 17." PCMAG, 15 Dec. 2023, https://www.pcmag.com/how-to/use-apple-journal-app-iphone-write-it-out.

Jordan Liles is a Senior Reporter who has been with Snopes since 2016.

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