How iOS 14’s privacy features can keep you safer

As more and more daily activities are propelled online, the ability to protect your privacy, identity, and data becomes paramount. With iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, Apple has gone on a mission to boost transparency and set limits for services that seek to mine your personal data for profit and invade your privacy. Some new features introduced in the updated mobile operating systems accelerate the process by helping you control access to and monitor your data, while some are awaiting implementation. Here’s how to use some of the new privacy and security features in iOS 14.

Approximate location

When you enable location tracking in a mobile app, it does just that. It finds the geographical coordinates where your phone or tablet is located and incorporates them into whatever service that app performs. In iOS 13, you got the choice of granting new types of location permissions, which allowed apps to only track you while you were using the app or just once. If you let certain apps continue to use your location in the background, then you’d get reminders of their presence.

Now, if you’d rather an app only track your general location — say, your hometown as opposed to your specific street — you can open Settings > Privacy > Location Services and toggle Precise Location on or off for each app. For apps other than navigation, an approximate location works just fine.

Microphone and camera recording lights

iOS 14 Mic recording

Cameras and microphones being used to spy on us is one of our oldest technological fears. Thankfully, iOS 14 has the tools to make those worries a thing of the past — or confirm our suspicions.

New amber and green indicators in your device’s status bar signal when an app has used your camera or microphone. The amber light signifies an app has used your mic, while a green light signals access to your camera. If there’s no good reason for those recording functions to be used, those lights can be a reminder to remove app permissions where required.

Restrict access to stored photos

You may want some apps to have access to your photos, but probably not every single one of them. When an app wants to access stored photos on your device, it must ask permission, and with iOS 14, you can give conditional permission as opposed to blanket permission. You can allow access to all photos, no photos, or only selected photos. You can further restrict access by specifying certain photos or folders in Settings > Privacy > Photos, where you can modify access for each app individually.

Hidden photos

While you’ve always been able to hide a photo from casual view by tapping Hide on any photo, those hidden photos on your iPhone or iPad remained relatively easy to find. With iOS 14, you can now hide a Hidden folder. Go to Settings > Photos > Hidden Album and switch it off. Now, prying eyes can see neither the photo nor the hidden folder where it resides. You’ll need to turn the Hidden Album back on to see your photos again, but that’s a small price to pay for a little privacy.

Password security assistance

It’s likely you’ve set up your system so that your passwords autofill in your browser without you having to remember them. In iOS 14, Apple has added a Security Recommendations feature via Settings > Passwords > Security Recommendations, which notifies you if your password has appeared in any known data leak or data breach. It’ll then suggest that you change your password.

Control advertising tracking

We constantly see evidence of apps using tracking technology to follow you around the internet. With iOS 14, apps soon will need to receive permission to do that. If you want to halt apps from tracking you across your phone, there’s an option in Settings > Privacy > Apple Advertising that lets you switch off personalized ads in Apple services.

If you want to turn off all tracking and don’t ever want to be asked about it, go to Settings > Privacy > Tracking and disable Allow Apps to Request to Track. These features do not reduce ad volume, but they will prevent Apple from using your data to display personalized ads. Apple will require apps to show a pop-up for tracking permission beginning in 2021.

Clipboard notification

If you copy and paste a chunk of text from Safari to Mail, that text is stored in the clipboard. Many apps are set up to access your clipboard, and some may do so without your knowledge or approval, potentially storing private information like passwords. With iOS 14, a small banner appears whenever you paste information, informing you which app used the clipboard. No setting is available right now to turn off the banners or give universal permission to specific apps, but it’s another small price to pay for privacy.

App Store privacy

The iOS 14 App Store requires all apps to report their privacy policies straight away so you can decide whether or not to install them. In the near future, apps will have to reveal how much data they collect, how much can personally identify you, and which data can be used to follow you around other apps and sites. Developers will also have to disclose where targeted ads are displayed in an app as a result of third-party data and where device location, email lists, advertising IDs, or other revealing information is shared with third parties. These requirements do not prevent developers from collecting data, but they do make the process more transparent.

Safari privacy report

Apple is applying Safari privacy features on all platforms to prevent cross-site tracking and cookies. The new Privacy Report in Safari 14 uses DuckDuckGo’s tracker to reveal which trackers have been flagged by the Intelligent Tracking Prevention algorithm, and Safari’s privacy report shows you how many trackers the browser has blocked, which websites attract the most trackers, and which trackers are the most aggressive. A variety of toggle switches in the Settings > Safari security section notify you of online surveillance, and each website you visit lets you check this information by tapping the double-A in the URL bar.

Local network privacy

You can now control whether the apps installed on your Apple mobile device have permission to connect with devices on your local network via Settings > Privacy > Local Network. From there, you can toggle access for apps that request permission, and all communication with the local network is blocked until you grant permission. A pop-up is displayed the first time you open an app asking for permission.

Private Wi-Fi Address

Private Address is a new iOS 14 feature that assigns a different media access control (MAC) address to each of your devices every time one connects to a Wi-Fi network. It’s on by default and renders your network less trackable and less vulnerable to network mischief-makers.

Should it be switched off, you will receive a pop-up privacy warning in your Wi-Fi settings. To access the control, go to Settings > Wi-Fi Info Button > Private Address. You can toggle off the control briefly and then switch it back on to change the MAC address if you wish. If your router notifies you whenever a new device joins the network, you’ll be pinged after you turn on the private address feature and rejoin the network with a new MAC.

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