iOS 14 protects your privacy in important new ways

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During the WWDC 2020 keynote, Apple doubled down on its commitment to privacy.
During the WWDC 2020 keynote, Apple doubled down on its commitment to privacy.
Photo: Apple

WWDC 2020 The next iPhone and iPad operating systems warn you when the microphone or camera is on, let you share your approximate location, and block apps from tracking you. And these are just some of the ways iOS 14 and the iPad equivalent protect user privacy. Apple is clearly working hard to live up to its promise that it regards privacy as a fundamental human right.

Warns you when the camera or microphone is recording

No one wants to be filmed without their knowledge. And rumors that Facebook and other apps secretly listen to users run rampant on the internet. Apple’s solution is a warning indicator that appears in iOS 14 whenever the camera or microphone is running in the background. An orange dot appears by the wireless signal strength icon when recording is going on.

And Control Center lets you see if an app has used either of them recently.

A multimedia recording indicator is part of iOS 14 privacy enhancements.
If you see this orange dot, some app is capturing audio or video.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Notifies you that text is being pasted

Another iOS 14 privacy enhancement is a pop-up window that appears whenever text, an image, etc. is pasted into an application. This shows where the information was copied from and where it’s going.

Most of the time, you’ll already know this. But it’ll be a warning if a shady app tries to secretly ask for whatever text you copied earlier for no clear reason.

Blocks app tracking

Everyone knows websites track users across the web. Fewer people realize that some applications do the same. But iOS 14 lets you block this.

A new toggle in Privacy settings asks if you want to “allow apps to ask to use an identifier that can be used to combine your activity across apps and websites.“ Even if that toggle in Privacy settings is turned on, each application will still have to ask if it can track you.

This is about in-app advertising. And marketing too. Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers allows software developers to run ads then find out which of these brought in customers. But iOS 14 and the iPadOS equivalent make it easy for iPhone and iPad users to block this tracking.

That’s good for privacy, but hard on companies.

Controls exactly which pictures apps can access

When an application asks for access to your images, you have the option to specify exactly which ones. Instead of giving a fun-but-questionable image editor full access to your entire photo library, you can restrict it to just a handful of pics.

The downside of this privacy feature is that it adds hassle. Give that image editor access to just a couple of pictures today, and if you use the app later you’ll have to go to Settings and give permission to use new pics.

Shares only your approximate location

iOS 14 privacy controls let you share your approximate location
Many iPhone application don’t need your precise location. An approximate one is enough.
Screenshot: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Many iPhone and iPad applications want to know where you are so they can provide location-based services. With iOS 14, it’s now possible to tell them an approximate location.

This allows you to, for example, tell your local news app that you’re in Springfield without it letting it know you’re at 742 Evergreen Terrace. It’s a balance between privacy and convenience.

Whether to use a precise or approximate location can be set individually for every application in the Privacy section of Settings.

Provides an online Tracking Report

Safari in iOS 14 includes a Tracking Report. Check this to see all the cross-site trackers that are being blocked by Intelligent Tracking Prevention, a feature that debuted in iOS 12.

Among the information shown is what percentage of the websites visited tried to track you across the web. And there’s a list of websites that employ tracking systems, usually for target advertising.

Privacy notifications coming to the App Store

Apple said at its WWDC developers conference that the App Store will display information about the privacy practices of applications. This will let users check before they download it.

But it’s not here yet. Apple said in its list of changes in iOS 14 that “Privacy information on the App Store will be coming in an iOS 14 update later this year.”