The Biggest Privacy Changes Coming to iOS in 2020

Photo: Kevin Frayer, Getty Images
Photo: Kevin Frayer, Getty Images

Apple never misses a chance to brand itself as a tech company that puts our privacy before its profits — and this year’s annual developer conference was no exception. By the time the virtual keynote wrapped up earlier today, the company announced a slew of new privacy-protective tech that’d be rolled into the newest updates to its upcoming OS.

No More Exact Locations in iOS

First up is the introduction of what Apple’s calling “Approximate Location,” which is set for rollout with the iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 this coming fall. As Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi explained to Fast Company, the latest software update will allow users to dictate that an app only hoover their “approximate location” — accurate to few miles of wherever they might be standing — rather than their precise latitude and longitude.

In order to come up with these approximations, Apple divvied up the entire globe into a certain number of regions approximately 16 km across, and gave each one a certain identifier. If a user wants to tell a given app to hoover up their “approximate” rather than “precise” location, this is the identifier that gets hoovered by that app. And because these regions are literally miles across, it’s effectively impossible for the app to get a given user’s precise coordinates if the user doesn’t want them to.

Recording Indicators

Aside from location tracking, the iOS 14 is also coming with a camera and microphone recording indicator baked in. Similar to the camera light that’s already present on your average Mac computer, this little light will sit at the top of an iOS device’s status bar to let users know whether their front or rear camera — or their mic — might be turned on.

Image: Apple

App Nutrition Labels

The new iOS update will also overhaul the way advertisers can track and target users in-app or across the web. App developers are also going to be required to self-report the permissions that their apps ask for, so a given developer can’t, say, secretly hoover up a user’s location or identifying details without Apple — or the user — knowing about it.

This is part of what Federighi referred to as the “nutrition label” all apps will have with the latest software update. As he explained during the keynote, this label will allow users to peruse the privacy policy of a given app before downloading it onto their personal device. While it’s pretty well reported that most privacy policies are either unread or deliberately designed to be misunderstood, the ability to freely browse these sorts of details pre-download is something that, frankly, we should’ve been allowed to do for a long time.

Time will tell whether these small tweaks will actually result in substantial privacy changes to developer practices or the way average people use their iOS devices. Regardless of whether they do or don’t, at least we can be sure that Apple will take credit for it.