More Privacy Protections with Apple: Everything Announced at WWDC 2020

Apple has made a strong case and commitment to privacy protections for its users, and that has been only strengthened by their showing at WWDC 2020. Here’s all the big privacy changes and protections coming to your iPhone, iPad, or Mac computer.

Demonstrating the new Sign-in with Apple with the option to upgrade your existing account with Kayak to a Sign-in with Apple account - Image courtesy of Apple
Image courtesy of Apple

Sign-In with Apple: Apple said that over 200 million accounts have created using Sign-in with Apple and that users are 2x more likely to create an account on services than if they’re given the option. While sign-in with Apple can be great for privacy, it doesn’t help so much when you’ve already got an account that you had to tie to an email. Now, users will have the option to switch their existing accounts to Sign-in with Apple. While this won’t change the fact that the service may still have your old email on file, it will at least help you maybe take a little more control of your inbox if you can move some of those services over.

Apple's image of approximate location - Image courtesy of Apple
Image courtesy of Apple

Approximate location: iOS will be getting some new Privacy awareness features as well. Now if apps request location access, you’ll now have the option to give them specific or approximate location. While some apps you’ll probably want specific location access, say like a map app or some AR games like Pokemon Go, there are other times perhaps you don’t want to give them the location of your house. Say you want to do grocery pickup with the Walmart app and they want to know your location as you’re driving to them. Or you want to check-in with a restaurant or hair stylist’s app to reserve your spot? Some of these services probably do not need your specific location to function and have been getting it anyway, so now iOS can basically give them a range, which Apple says it has done by dividing the world into 10-mile chunks and what chunk you’re in when approximate location is given.. There are likely other ways trackers can figure out more specific location, but this is still a step toward making it harder for them to do so.

Just these photos: Starting in iOS 14, you will have the ability to grant apps only access to specific photos. Meaning you can select what photos an app has access to without giving access to your entire photo library. Useful if you use photos to record info that may be private, or pictures you don’t want just anyone to see and have.

Image of the orange dot being displayed at the top right corner of the iPhone - Image courtesy of Apple
Image courtesy of Apple

Camera notification: Speaking of the camera, your iOS device will now display a green or orange dot showing if your camera or microphone are active. Previous versions of iOS have shown indicators for mic recording or calls, now the indicator will include general camera use as well. The green dot will be for the camera with the orange being for the microphone. If you’re not sure what app is using it, you can look in Control Center.

Clipboard notification: In iOS 14, if you copy something into your clipboard, and switch to another app, you’ll see a notice whether the app can see that item you copied. While it won’t change the fact that they have it, and it is a basic function of iOS to allow you to copy, it will be a bit of a wake up call to many users that apps can see what you’re copying. I’m of the opinion that it might be better for Apple to notify the app that there is something in the clipboard, but not let the app see it until the user explicitly says to paste it. That could just be armchair developer talk.

Tracking control and transparency: Apple is taking one page from Android and then supercharging one of its own.

A view of the App Privacy page in the App Store running on iOS 14 - Image courtesy of Apple
Image courtesy of Apple

First, developers in the App Store will be self reporting what data their app will be collect. This doesn’t just include permissions it can request like contact or photo access, but even things like your browsing history and permission to share its info with third party vendors. The permissions rule is something Android has had since early on, so its good to see Apple being up front about this so users can make better choices.

But Apple has gone even further by giving iOS users more control over tracking. According to their developer page regarding the new AppTrackingTransparency framework, apps must must ask your permission to track you across app and sites for the purposes of, but not limited to:

  • Displaying targeted advertisements in your app based on user data collected from apps and websites owned by other companies.
  • Sharing device location data or email lists with a data broker.
  • Sharing a list of emails, advertising IDs, or other IDs with a third-party advertising network that uses that information to retarget those users in other developers’ apps or to find similar users.
  • Placing a third-party SDK in your app that combines user data from your app with user data from other developers’ apps to target advertising or measure advertising efficiency, even if you don’t use the SDK for these purposes. For example, using an analytics SDK that repurposes the data it collects from your app to enable targeted advertising in other developers’ apps.

However, Apple does allow tracking without user permission in a few select cases such as:

  • When user or device data from your app is linked to third-party data solely on the user’s device and is not sent off the device in a way that can identify the user or device.
  • When the data broker with whom you share data uses the data solely for fraud detection, fraud prevention, or security purposes, and solely on your behalf. For example, using a data broker solely to prevent credit card fraud.

Theoretically some less than transparent companies could claim data tracking for security purposes and use it for tracking, but hopefully Apple will be strict about these rules and punish apps and trackers should they abuse it.

Safari: Safari on both Mac and iOS is getting some nice privacy improvements, some are catchup and others are new. On both platforms, there will now be a tracker transparency button. When clicked, it will show what trackers and how many have been blocked by Safari’s own tracking protection. It’s something that other browsers like Brave and Firefox have been doing for a while, but having it as a front facing feature, particularly on iOS will be good for shedding more light on tracking.

View of the privacy report in Safari running on iOS 14 - Image courtesy of Apple
Image courtesy of Apple

If you store your password in Safari’s Keychain, it now will also have the ability to track whether these passwords and sites have been compromised and notify you to change them. Again, not revolutionary since Firefox and LastPass have been offering this feature for a while in their password managers, but also not a feature I’m going to say is bad either. A lot of people do use Keychain to remember their passwords, so anything to help improve security for another group of users is good.

What is revolutionary is Safari for Mac’s handling of extensions. While there are a couple of changes coming to extensions, we’ll just focus on the privacy function here. When you install an extension into Safari, you’ll see the extension appear in the Safari toolbar next to the URL bar, but it won’t start running until you click on it (just the first time, afterwards it’ll start running when you launch the browser). However when you click it, you’ll be given the option whether to allow the extension to run on all sites, only a particular site, or just one time. This is something I really hope Firefox and Chrome offer. There are numerous extensions that could be useful but seem very privacy invading, such as price comparison extensions that tell you if there’s a better deal on another site for an item you’re currently shopping for. Being able to limit where that extension runs, as well as even run extensions only when you want them to is a big privacy step. Whether this convinces more people to use Safari on Mac we’ll have to wait and see. But it does put the impetus on other browsers on how to control their rogue extensions.

Image courtesy of Apple

So those are some of the big privacy changes coming in iOS 14 and macOS 10.16 “Big Sur”. What do you think? What were you favorite announcements and new protections coming? Let us know in the comments below and on social media.

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