Apple’s Biggest Privacy Flexes of WWDC 2021

Apple’s Biggest Privacy Flexes of WWDC 2021
Photo: Mladen Antonov, Getty Images

It wouldn’t be an Apple event without a nod to the company’s pro-privacy stance. As part of its annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) keynote this year, the company announced some major privacy upgrades that will come with iOS 15 and iCloud — here are some of the biggest.

A More Private Inbox

First up is Mail Privacy Protection, which is a new tab in Apple’s Mail app that’s meant to do what the name implies: letting users decide what data the program shares. Under this new tab, users can choose to hide their IP address and location details from email senders, not unlike the recent iOS 14 updates that keep apps from slurping up details like precise location and a phone’s mobile ad ID. As an added benefit, Apple says its new mailbox settings will keep people from tracking whether you opened the email they sent you and when that email was opened.

In a similar vein, the company also rolled out Hide My Email, a new service baked into Mail, Safari, and iCloud that lets users create unique, randomised email addresses that forward to their personal inbox. There’s no limit to the number of randomised emails that a person can make at any given time, and they’re free to delete these emails whenever they want, Apple said. It’s sure to be useful for people that want to keep their inbox safe from the regular deluge of spam that comes with signing up for certain offers.

iOS App List of Shame

On top of the inbox updates, the company also announced new “app privacy reports,” which will surface more detailed intel about how non-Apple apps are tracking your activity across your device. Similar to Safari privacy reports, these will break down which apps on your device are accessing what kind of data, and how much of that data gets sent to specific third-party trackers. As part of that report, users will also get an overview of how often a given app accessed your microphone, camera, or precise location over the past week. Think of it as a quick list to shame the worst privacy offenders on your phone.

Graphic: Apple Graphic: Apple

Bringing Siri Offline

Finally, iPhone users will finally be able to use Siri on their devices without connecting to the internet. Apple announced it would be bringing speech recognition on-device, which means Siri will (usually) be able to understand what you’re saying regardless of whether you’re online. That also means if you’re the type of person to use Siri to set alarms or play music, you’ll be able to do so without an internet connection. Apple does this by processing all voice commands on your device, rather than on some server somewhere — meaning a stranger ostensibly won’t be able to listen in on the things you say.

iCloud Gets Locked Down

Apple introduced a slew of new features for iCloud on the privacy front. First, the company announced Private Relay, a new VPN service built into iCloud that will let users browsing on Safari completely encrypt their traffic. Apple says this setting ensures that “no one between the user and the website they are visiting can access and read” any data sent over Private Relay, not even Apple or the user’s network provider. The service works by directing any network traffic through two separate relays — one that assigns the user an anonymous IP address, and the second that forwards them to a destination. Separating information like this, Apple says, prevents any single entity from figuring out a user’s identity and the sites they visit.

On top of this, iCloud will now get built-in support for HomeKit to put less of a strain on your cloud storage. According to Apple. users will be able to connect to “more cameras than ever before,” via their Home app, without that home security footage counting against their storage capacity. As always, HomeKit Secure Video guarantees that any footage picked up by a person’s security cameras gets analysed and encrypted by their Apple devices before being stored in their iCloud account.