How to control your iOS app permissions

Mobile apps are a universal gateway to all kinds of multi-purpose functionality. With iOS apps, permissions allow you to seamlessly tag photos and videos with your location, permit video apps to use your camera and microphone, allow map apps to determine your exact location to give you proper directions, and let weather apps give you the correct forecast so you know whether to dress warmly or pack an umbrella. When apps know what they need to know about you, they can do a better job. But sometimes apps can ask for information they don’t need, or seek to gather it all the time, and that’s where your vigilance in maintaining control over the process is valuable.

So it’s worth taking a few minutes to get some idea of what you’re sharing with your iOS apps, and whether that information is absolutely necessary to optimize your use. You want to find out what your apps are up to, and if there’s anything you need to change. You can grant and revoke permissions at any time. On iOS, apps request permissions at the time of need, including to show notifications — often when you install or use a new app. Here are a few ways to control your app permissions.

  • From the Settings app, tap Privacy to see all the permissions available on your phone.
  • Tap on any entry to see the apps granted those permissions.
  • Disable any permissions that are not needed. You can always grant them again later.

App privileges don’t have to be all or nothing: With Location Services, for example, you can decide whether apps can access your location always, never, or just while you’re using the app. While Using the App means an app can access your location only while the app is running and on-screen — when you switch to a different app, your location is no longer available.

  • For location data, you can grant access to an app all the time or only when the app is open.
  • With Apple Health data, you can grant an app access to some data and not others.
  • Scroll down the Settings screen beyond the Privacy menu for individual apps.
  • For the Cellular category, scroll down to the list of apps and toggle data access for specific apps on or off.
  • Tap on any app to access permissions, and some extra items, such as access to notifications and permission to use cellular data as well as Wi-Fi.
  • Tap on an option or toggle switch to grant or refuse permission.

You can also select which apps can use cellular and other data. This is helpful if you have a limited data plan and are trying to conserve it. Those apps that can’t use cellular data will only update and perform other tasks when you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

With iOS, you can also choose to send diagnostic and usage data to Apple and have your usage tracked so that you only see advertising customized to your interests. In iOS 13, apps can continue to tell the OS that they want to use your location, but you will only get a single prompt for any app: Allow While Using App, the new Allow Once, or Don’t Allow. If you choose Allow Once, the app will prompt you whenever you launch it.

In addition to new, fine-grained controls that let you grant apps access to your location once or anytime you use it, iOS 13 will notify you when an app is using your location in the background, so you can decide whether to change your permissions. New controls also work to prevent apps from accessing your location without your consent via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. And now you can control whether you share your location when you share a photo snapped with your phone.

Why controlling your iOS app permissions is important

While your iPhone makes it easy to disclose vital information like your location, work schedule, contacts, photos, and documents, it also guarantees your right to privacy and to choose with whom and when to share such information. A lot of apps need entry to privileged personal information in order to function properly, especially if they are social media platforms, but even they have to brief you as to what information they need and why before you grant them permission to access it. For example, Instagram will need your permission to access your photo library if you want to post anything. If you agree, the app will have the privilege until you revoke it. If you opt against sharing your info, these apps shouldn’t bother you about it. You can still grant permission, but you must do it via the Settings screen. When apps ask for more data than they reasonably need to do their jobs, it potentially risks your privacy and security. Most often, apps will request permission for location, camera, microphone, camera roll, contacts, and health information.

This is not a benign issue. Apps that you share location data with can also share that data with third parties without your knowledge, which is not only a violation of privacy but potentially dangerous. A New York Times study found that “at least 75 companies receive anonymous, precise location data from apps whose users enable location services to get local news and weather or other information.” The Times noted that these companies sell, use, or analyze such data to benefit advertisers, retailers, and financial institutions. According to the Times, sales of location-targeted advertising totaled an estimated $21 billion in 2018. Last year’s flap over FaceApp, a popular face-filter photo app, just scratches the surface.

Fortunately, in recent years, Apple has turned its attention to increased privacy and security, and with iOS 13, controlling app permissions is easier than ever. So as long as you look after your permissions, your iPhone should look after your privacy.

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