Apple announced Monday at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) that the upcoming iOS 15 update will give iPhone users even greater visibility and control over their own data. Among other updates, you'll soon be able to see who your apps share your data with; you can prevent trackers from detecting if and when you open emails; and you can keep your internet activity more private. This is good news for you, but not good news for the data brokers who use your data to make money.
To illustrate how seriously Apple takes the privacy of its users, Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, introduced the privacy portion of the WWDC keynote by leaving the brightly lit virtual stage from which he saw other new iOS devices. products and in a secret, darkened virtual room.
"Privacy is a fundamental human right," Federighi began.
Some of Apple's new privacy features cost extra…
But Apple users may have to pay to fully exercise that right: Two of the new features are only available to iCloud subscribers (prices range from 99 cents to $9.99 per month, depending on how much storage you use), which will soon be enrolled in "iCloud+." Here's what "+" gets you:
- Private Relay, Apple's version of a virtual private network (VPN). When you use Safari, your traffic is encrypted and rerouted through two relays, which means that no one can intercept it and no one can see where you are going or where you are coming from, including Apple, your ISP or the website you are visiting.
- Hide My Email, which allows you to generate a fake email address for the many websites that now force you to enter one to use or read them, or sign up for accounts to do things like a make a vaccination appointment. Those emails then go to your real email inbox, but the website doesn't know your real email address. But there are some limitations: Apple's demonstration shows it only works if you're using Safari, Mail, and with your iCloud email address.
VPNs already cost money – it's quite a range, but depending on what service you use and what plan you buy, you could pay $1.99 a month or you could pay $12.99 (there are free, but buyer beware) — so Apple isn't doing anything that the industry isn't already doing. That industry, by the way, could suffer some pain now that Apple has joined. If you already have an iCloud – sorry, "iCloud+" account, you get something at no extra cost that you would have otherwise paid for.
Apple has said it views privacy and security as part of the value of its devices — and it has heeft repeatedly called that privacy a 'human right' – but in these cases that human right will cost a little more.
…but most are still free
And now, the privacy improvements you don't have to pay for anymore.
The first is one that is sure to upset newsletter providers because it keeps them from tracking how many and which of their subscribers open their emails. Oh, didn't you know that newsletters keep track of when and if you read them? Welcome to the world of pixels. You see, newsletters (and anyone who sends an email using an email tracker) embed tiny pixel-sized images in emails. When you open an email, you automatically download the images in it, and then the sender knows which email addresses opened the email, how many times they opened it, when they opened it, and even the IP address that opened the email.
This is all useful information for newsletter operators who want to know how many subscribers are actually opening their product or other details about them. But it can also be abused. It's not just newsletters that use this feature. So now Apple's Mail app will have Mail Privacy Protection, which will hide all that information from email senders — including those bad newsletters and their prized open rates. in contrast to some other Big Tech companies, Apple doesn't seem to be getting into the newsletter game, so it doesn't need these pixels. (If you don't use Mail or don't want to wait for iOS 15, there are still ways to block these trackers you can enable now.)
And if you liked iOS 14's app tracking transparency and privacy food labels, you'll love iOS 15's app privacy report. This will be a new section in your device's privacy settings, telling you how often and when your apps use your permissions (such as access to your location, camera, and microphone). It's a lot like what Google introduced in Android 12 last month, which was one of the few features Apple hadn't done before.
But App Privacy Report goes even further than Android's privacy dashboard. It also says which domains your apps contact as you use them. This finally gives the average user a way to see who else their apps are sharing their data with, though it doesn't do anything to stop that sharing in the first place. So it's not great for control (although who knows what iOS 16 will bring), but it's great for transparency.
If you don't have an iCloud(+) subscription and don't want to or can't pay for it, you still have a free Safari privacy update that hides your IP address from trackers on websites you visit, making it harder for trackers to access. identify you as you browse the Internet at your leisure.
Finally, Siri also becomes more private. Apple's voice assistant will now do all the speech recognition processing on your device, instead of sending your audio to an Apple server for processing. That means Apple can't access those recordings, which is a privacy issue for just about every major smart assistant out there. But that doesn't mean that what you request will stay on your device – just the sound of your request does.
Apple hasn't said when iOS 15 will roll out, or if all of these features will be in place when it's released. In previous years, it will roll out in September, although that doesn't mean everything announced today will come then too. We had to wait seven months between the release of iOS 14 and iOS 14.5 with App Tracking Transparency. But they will come, and if they do, they will cause more disruption in the tracking industry.