iOS 14.3: Give your iPhone a privacy audit

Privacy is very much at the heart of iOS 14, and iOS 14.3 puts apps under the microscope.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

If you carry around a smartphone, then you're offering a massive surface to be tracked, not just your physical location but also what you do online. On top of that, you could be giving unknown third parties access to things like your microphone, camera, the contents of your clipboard, and much more.

Apple has been working hard to crack down on surreptitious ways that apps can track you, and iOS 14 is probably the most privacy-conscious operating system to date. And changes with the release of iOS 14.3 make it even more secure.

Must read: Apple now shows you all the ways iOS apps track you

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Camera and microphone access

Smartphone users have been understandably concerned about apps are furtively turning on the camera or microphone without consent. Apple has now added an on-screen notification in the form of a dot above the signal strength meter whenever they are accessed.

A green dot for when the camera is accessed (similar to the green LED that lights up on Macs when the camera is on), and an orange dot for microphone access.

Camera access notification

Camera access notification

Microphone access notification

Microphone access notification

Also, if you access Control Center, there's a notice at the top showing you the most recent app that has accessed the camera or microphone, which is handy if you saw the dot appear and weren't sure why.

Camera access notification in Control Center

Camera access notification in Control Center

Microphone access notification in Control Center

Microphone access notification in Control Center

These notifications are automatic, and there's no way to turn them off.

Limit access to your photos

No longer do you have to give apps access to all -- or for that matter, any -- of your photos.

When an app first requests access to your photos, you get the option to block access, give full access, or access to selected photos.

And if you change your mind, you can head over to Settings > Privacy > Photos and make changes there. It might be a good idea to go check what permissions you've given existing apps, and whether you want to make any tweaks.

No more secret snooping on your clipboard

When data is copied and pasted a notification is shown on screen in the form of a popup. This is a simple yet effective way to find out if apps are snooping on your clipboard.

Clipboard paste notification

Clipboard paste notification

Choose to not give apps your precise location

Now you have the option to allow apps access to your general location, but not your precise location. It's nice to have the choice to use location data without giving a pinpoint location.

It makes sense for some apps to have your precise location -- mapping and navigation, for example, and the Tile app that tracks my stuff -- but for other apps it might not make sense, and for those you can tell iOS to give them location data that's a bit more vague.

To access this setting go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services and then check the permissions for the apps that have access to your location.

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Limit network access

Another thing that you'll see after installing iOS 14/iPadOS 14 is apps requesting local network access. Some apps need this -- they may be used to control Bluetooth or Wi-Fi gadgets -- but why other apps -- such as Facebook -- need it is somewhat hazy.

You get to choose. And if you change your mind, you can head over to Settings > Privacy > Local Network and tweak the permissions.

Put a stop to Wi-Fi tracking

Your iPhone can now dish out a fake MAC address to Wi-Fi routers, which prevents your device from being tracked when using network connections.

This feature is on by default, and you can find it by going Settings > Wi-Fi and then click on the "i" in a circle next to the network.

Note that while this works fine on most networks, it can cause issues. For example, some smart networks are designed to send out a notification when a new device connects. It can also mess with parental controls or corporate/enterprise networks where permissions are assigned based on MAC address (it's not recommended to use MAC address for authentication, but it happens).

If you have problems with certain Wi-Fi networks, you may have to turn this feature off.

Know more about the apps you are installing

Apple is forcing developers who submit new or updated apps to fill in a comprehensive app privacy policy, highlighting what data is collected and how it is used.

To see this information, go to the App Store app, search for your favorite app, and then scroll down to App Privacy and then tap See Details.

Some app's privacy information will be short and sweet, others not so short.

It's a great idea to know what information the apps you have installed are harvesting. It is, after all, your data, and iOS 14 puts you in charge.

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