Privacy Enhancements in iOS 14
5 min read • 851 words
If you read nothing else, read this paragraph. Now that iOS 14 has released, I strongly recommend that you go to
Settings > General > Reset and tap on "Reset Location & Privacy". This will clear out your Privacy settings, requiring every application to prompt you the next time it needs access to your photos, location, or any other sensitive data. New to iOS 14, you can turn off "Precise Location" for apps that don't need it. When apps like Instagram request photos access, you can grant access to "Selected Photos" instead of your entire library.
In this post, I'll provide a quick overview of iOS 14's new privacy controls. iOS 14 introduces fine-grained settings to give you tighter control over your privacy. Without a doubt, Apple is doing something right; the advertising industry is pissed off at them because of these changes.
There are two new privacy settings that I want to highlight in this post:
- Precise/imprecise location setting
- Ability to grant applications access to "Selected Photos". (Pre iOS 14, photos access was all or none)
Before iOS 14, you had 3 options when granting an application access to your location: "allow once", "always allow", or "allow while using the app". These are useful settings that provided a necessary level of privacy controls, but in 2020, when advertisers are running amok with our data, we need more. With iOS 14, Apple came thru.
Apps like Snapchat (which request location access for purposes of users sharing their location on a map) can use that precise location data however they see fit; they could learn that you visit Target every Friday and start showing you Target ads on Thursday evenings. Nefarious developers with access to your location could glean your home address, your work address, and your frequently visited locations just from having access to your location.
I have heard tales of companies with internal dashboards that show where all of their app's users are at on a map at any given time. In the age of ubiquitous technology, lots of "creepy" practices are emerging. By default, companies should NOT be trusted with your data. Engineers are asked to implement solutions that violate user's best interest on the daily. Many comply.
In iOS 14, Apple has taken steps to mitigate developers' access to your precise location. The new location prompt on iOS 14 allows you to toggle whether the app can see your precise location. There are very few applications that need access to your precise location. Other than navigation apps, the majority of apps should be able to function just fine without precise location access.
In iOS 13, Instagram has access to your full photo library. Swiping left from the camera illustrates this–you are presented with a list of ALL of your photos thru the Instagram interface.
No way in hell do I trust Instagram (owned by Facebook) with unfettered access to my photos. For all I know, they could be uploading my entire photo library to their server, running image processing on them, and using what they learned to serve targeted ads to me on Facebook. Photos that I have never posted to Instagram could have been used for nefarious purposes by the company. For all we know, we are unwittingly feeding a facial recognition database–simply by granting an application access to our photos. We have no control of what an application does with our photos after we grant access–and this is an issue.
In iOS 14, Apple has mitigated this. When an application requests access to your photos, you are presented with a new option: "Selected Photos". Tapping this option presents you with your photo library, and allows you to select specific photos that the app will have access to. As far as that application is concerned, your photo library contains the photos you have selected, nothing more. If you use the "Selected Photos" permission level, it's impossible for a developer to see photos that you don't explicitly select when granting access.
Significant Locations isn't a new feature to iOS 14, but now is as good a time as any to educate people about the feature's existence.
By default, iOS is tracks your location to a surprising level of detail. Take a look at
Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services, scroll down and tap on "Significant Locations". You'll see a detailed log and map of the places you frequent, along with timestamps of when you visited those locations.
This can be startling the first time you see it. Your iPhone is collecting A LOT of your location history. If you'd like, you can disable this feature within the "Significant Locations" setting screen. I keep the feature enabled. The Significant Locations feature is what enables the iPhone to predict where I may want to drive when I get in the car, and suggest directions to those locations when pertinent. These locations are stored on my device, and are locked behind FaceID. I trust Apple to not use my location history for nefarious purposes.