Technology

Apple adds privacy icon to iOS 11.3 that shows you when it's collecting your data

Written by techgoth

Apple is pressing its privacy-conscious ethos by adding a new icon to iOS 11, showing when the company is using your personal information across its services.  

In the wake of recent revelations around Facebook’s handling of user data, and in the lead up to the UK’s incoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Apple is updating the way it informs users about how personal information is used. This preempts further changes in May, which will give customers more options around downloading, correcting and deactivating the use of personal data held by the company.

After installing the newly released iOS 11.3, macOS 10.13.4, and tvOS 11.3 software update, users will be met with a page that explains how a new icon, of two figures shaking hands, will appear “when an Apple feature asks to use your personal information”.

The idea is that when personal information is being collected on iTunes, the App Store or other Apple services, users can tap through the icon to read more information about what sort of data is being asked for and how it is being used. It’s pitched by the company as a way for it to increase transparency around how it handles user data, aligned with GDPR rules.  

(Above: How the new Data & Privacy information appears on an iPhone 8. Credit: Apple)

It’s worth noting that the icon only appears on Apple services, and not those of third-party apps. Apple is relatively strict, however, in the extent to which it allows apps to access data held on its hardware. The recent revelations around Facebook logging users’ calls and texts, for example, were centred around Android phones, not iOS devices.

This different approach to user data is something Tim Cook has been keen to emphasise, commenting yesterday in an interview with Recode that “privacy to us is a human right, a civil liberty”.

“We could make a ton of money if we monetised our customers, if our customers were our product,” Cook said. “We’ve elected not to do that […] We’re not going to traffic in your personal life.”

Today’s update will be followed by further additions in May, with updated privacy management tools for Apple ID. At the core of this are four actions that users can take to control their personal information: getting a copy of the data; request corrections to the data; deactivating their Apple ID account or delete their Apple ID account.

Perhaps the most interesting of these is the option to deactivate, but not delete an Apple ID. Apple says this will be a reversible action, meaning personal data cannot be processed or accessed by the company, but won’t be deleted. If you do decide to delete your account, this could take up to seven days while the company verifies the validity of the deletion request.

Privacy has increasingly become one of Apple’s core tenants. Arguably catalysed by the company’s 2016 clash with the FBI over access to the San Bernardino gunman’s iPhone, Apple has been vocal in its feelings towards targeted advertising, encryption and surveillance. In September last year, for example, Apple updated its website with a slew of details about user data, and published a white paper specifically dedicated to Face ID security, providing details about the facial recognition system’s abilities and limitations.

The company does indeed have a good track record around user data security. Even the 2014 iCloud hack was the result of targeted attacks on specific accounts, and not a general breach of Apple’s systems. Much of the company’s services hinge on locally stored data, as well as minimal collection of personal information. It’s an ideological approach that’s markedly different from Facebook and Google, and given the current climate Apple is understandably intent on drawing attention to it.

The iOS 11.3 update is being rolled out to iPhones and iPads from today (29 March). Other new features include four new animoji, an ARKit upgrade and music videos for Apple Music. 


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