Tech

How the next iPhone update will expose how companies try to track you

Key Points
  • Apple is boosting privacy features in iOS 14 that will make it a lot harder for apps and websites to track you without you knowing about it.
  • iOS 14 will prevent apps from tracking you around the web, will provide a new privacy report in the Safari web browser, and will let you know what information apps will request before you download them.
  • iOS 14 will also let you share your approximate location with apps instead of your precise location.
Widgets in iOS 14
Apple

Apple's iOS 14 iPhone update will launch later this fall and add lots of features, like a redesigned home screen experience with widgets, picture-in-picture support so you can watch videos while you do other things and more.

Apple's also boosting privacy features that make it harder for companies to track your movement around the web. It'll alert you when apps are accessing your camera and microphone. You'll be able to share your approximate location with apps instead of your exact location. In short: it should be a lot harder for apps and websites to track you without you knowing about it.

Here are some of the biggest privacy changes Apple's making in iOS 14.

It's harder for apps to target you with ads

Kif Leswing/CNBC

It'll be harder for apps to target you with ads, unless you purposefully turn on "Allow Apps to Request to Track" and then approve each app individually. It's good for users, but may hurt businesses that rely on targeted digital ads. Facebook has warned that the change could impact its Audience Network advertising revenue by more than 50%, for example. While it may improve your privacy, Facebook says this could hurt advertisers that rely on that revenue, such as publishers and developers who earned $1.5 billion through the network in 2018. Facebook also warned its own revenue could be hurt by the feature after it launches.

Privacy Report in Safari

A sample Safari privacy report in iOS 14.
Apple

The Safari web browser has a built-in privacy tracker that prevents websites from tracking you as you surf the web. In iOS 14, you'll see a new privacy report that tells you how many trackers have been blocked, the websites you visit that use trackers and the ones that have been blocked. You just tap the "AA" button in the URL bar and then choose "Privacy Report."

Facebook, Google's DoubleClick and Google Analytics are some trackers I see in my report, and mine shows that Apple has stopped 205 from profiling me in the last month. These aren't always bad. Many can be used to tell publishers how many people are reading a story, for example. Others can be used to serve up ads that are relevant to you by creating a profile of the sites you visit. Apple uses DuckDuckGo, a search engine rival of Google's, to spot known trackers and blocks them from using any information that identifies you.

Safari will also monitor your saved passwords and will let you know if they've potentially been compromised in a data breach. Apple says it runs your password against a database of passwords that have been collected in known data breaches. 

A little green or orange dot on your iPhone will tell you if an app is accessing your camera or microphone

An orange dot on your iPhone shows you an app has used your microphone recently.
Apple

iOS 14 has a new tiny dot that appears on the top right of your screen above your cell signal. It'll let you know if an app is using your microphone or camera. The dot is green if an app is or has recently used your camera. It turns orange if it's using or has recently used your microphone. If you swipe down from the top of your screen, you'll see the app that recently accessed your camera or microphone.

It isn't meant to scare you. Lots of apps have your permission to use your camera. When I open Twitter, for example, and take a picture, an indication shows that Twitter recently accessed my camera. It's just added transparency so that you know what apps are using those functions. And it'll help you spot an app in case it uses your microphone or camera without you knowing it.

App privacy reports in the app store

Apple will show you the permissions apps will request before you download them.
Apple

Apple is adding new labels to each app in the App Store that shows you what information that app will collect. It's sort of like the nutrition label on food. It'll let you know if the app ties your financial information, location, contact information, browsing history, or purchases to you. Some apps will need this, especially if it's an app like Uber or Lyft where they offer in-app purchases and require your location for services. But now you'll know before you download an app if it's going to track things like your location or contact information.

You can share your approximate location with apps instead of actual location

In iOS 14, you can share your approximate location with apps instead of your precise location.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Sometimes an app needs your location to provide a service. A weather app might need to know where you are so it can tell you accurate forecasts, for example. Or a TV service might need to know your location so it serves you local shows for your market. But those apps probably don't need to know exactly where you are, the way an app like a car service that's coming to pick you up might. That's why Apple is adding new approximate location sharing.

In iOS 14, you can share your approximate location with weather apps and other services that need to know roughly where you are, but not exactly where you are. You'll be able to choose to let the app track your approximate location in a pop-up asking you to share where you are.

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