How Apple made the Photos app even more private in iOS 11

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Private photos Linea
App’s like Linea don’t need to read your whole photo library just to save a sketch.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

In iOS 11, developers have a new way to access your Photos library: write-only access. Instead of granting permission for an app to read and write to your Photos library, just so it can save the odd image, an app can now only be allowed to write — or save — images, without getting to poke around inside your library to see what else is there. It’s much more private,

Write-only access makes photos more private

It’s a small change, but shows that Apple is slowly locking down more and more of your information to make it safer. Currently, if an app wants to save photos, then it needs to gain full access to your Photos library, which means it can see all your photos, and information associated with them:

Under the new frameworks in iOS 11, an app can instead only request permission to write to the library. It’s like one of those slots on top of a safe that lets anyone deposit money inside without opening it up. The new feature was brought to our attention by Federico Zanetello on Twitter, where he posted this slide from Apple’s 2017 WWDC:

iOS 11 now offers better privacy options for app developers.
iOS 11 now offers better privacy options for app developers.
Photo: Apple

The new feature is only as good as the developer using it, though. If an app maker wants to gain access to your photos for nefarious uses, then they are unlikely to implement for this new option, and the average user isn’t likely to notice the difference anyway.

New photo privacy controls for users, too

Still, that new option isn’t the only new privacy control for Photos in iOS 11. You, the user, will also have more control over apps. Currently, the Photos privacy controls look like this (to view them, go to Settings>Privacy>Photos):

In iOS 10, your options are binary.
In iOS 10, your options are binary.
Photo: Cult of Mac

That’s iOS 10, and all you can do is allow access or not, yes or no. In iOS 11, the same setting looks like this:

In iOS 11, you get more control of your photos’ privacy.
In iOS 11, you get more control of your photos’ privacy.
Photo: Cult of Mac

And when you tap to access further settings, you see this:

Some apps, like Linea, have already implemented this new option.
Some apps, like Linea, have already implemented this new option.
Photo: Cult of Mac

It’d be great if there was a way to override the options and set things the way you want them, but right now, even this is an improvement, allowing a savvy user to at least see what level of access an app has to your photos. I think it’s great, because it gives us better control over our own privacy.