New privacy enhancements coming to iOS 8 in the fall

iOS 8 adds a number of new user controls that keeps your private information (like contacts and location) out of the hands of increasingly data-hungry apps.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor

Apple rolled out lots of privacy settings in iOS 7 in 2013, and now it's adding even more granular controls to iOS 8 in order to keep your personal information private.

Although it doesn't ship to the masses until this fall (likely in September or October), Apple distributed copies of iOS 8 to developers at WWDC earlier this month and began educating them on what to expect in the new OS. At WWDC14 Apple detailed significant changes that it's making in iOS 8 to protect your data and privacy. 

Apple's WWDC session 715 ("User Privacy on iOS and OS X") details some of the most important privacy changes that are coming to iOS 8 in the fall. Apple posted the complete video from the session (scroll down to "User Privacy") and the corresponding 109-page slide deck (PDF) for anyone to download. 

Here are some important new privacy enhancements that are coming to iOS 8 in the fall:

App Privacy Settings

Possibly the most important new privacy setting in iOS 8 is the ability to see and modify an app's individual privacy settings on an app-by-app basis. 

iOS 7 app privacy settings are controlled in Settings > Privacy sorted by the access it requires. For example, you need to touch Settings > Privacy > Contacts to see a list of the apps that have access to your contacts and Settings > Privacy > Microphone to see apps that have access to your microphone, etc. 

Image: ZDNet

In iOS 8 Apple's consolidating all of an app's Privacy settings in one location: Settings > AppName. This means that if you want to see how much access a certain app has to your data, you'll be able to touch Settings > AppName > Privacy, instead of having to burrow through Settings > Privacy > Location, Contacts, Calendar, Reminders, Photos and so on. As a nice touch, Apple's still keeping the iOS 7 behavior too, so you can easily audit all of the apps with access to your Contacts, Location or Microphone in the old location.

App Notification Settings

Image: ZDNet

Just like the new app privacy settings above, iOS 8 now includes an app's Notification settings in the same panel as the new Privacy settings in Settings > AppName. This give users a second – and more convenient – way to mute a pesky app's notifications. In iOS 7 you have to drill down through Settings > Notification Center > AppName to make changes to an offending app's Notifications settings.

Limiting Access to Location

In iOS 7 it was easy to grant an app access to your location on a permanent location. While this makes sense for apps like Maps, Weather and Camera (if you want to geo-tag your photos, for example), does Evernote really need to know your location all the time? Probably not. Changes to the the iOS 8 Location Services APIs give users even more control over how apps use their location. For example, apps that have permanent access to your location will occasionally re-prompt you for access to location in iOS 8, with a dialog that looks like this:

Image: ZDNet

This "location shaming" is a huge privacy win for consumers that blindly grant access to everything an overbearing app asks for upon first launch – referred to as the permission "conga line." Location shaming will force developers to reconsider whether they really need full-time access to a user's location because a user that's startled by an app the dialog above is more likely to click on "Don't Allow" and even uninstall the offending app.

Double-height status bars for Calls, Navigation and Voice Memos in IOS 7 - Jason O'Grady
Image: Jason O'Grady

But wait, there's more. In addition to location shaming, iOS 8 will also notify a user that an app is using their location in the background with a new, brightly colored, double-height status bar – similar to the one's used for phone calles, navigation, and the Voice Memos apps in iOS 7 (above) – to notify a user that an app's using their location in the background. The new double-height status bar is a welcome addition to iOS 8 that will garner more attention than the "purple triangle" did in iOS 7.

In iOS 7 you can audit which apps have access to your location in Settings > Privacy > Location Services. And you're familiar with the behavior of the purple arrow, right?

Safari Cookies

iOS 8 includes a new Safari third-party cookie policy includes an option to block all third-party cookies on the Safari browser, 'regardless of whether the user has visited the site previously." in iOS 7, the options in Settings > Safari > Block Cookies are:

  • Always
  • From third-parties and advertisers (My recommendation)
  • Never
iOS 8 Safari Cookie Settings - ZDNet
Image: ZDNet

In iOS 8 Apple has changed the choices to:

  • Always
  • Not from current website (My recommendation)
  • Not from previously visited
  • Never

Takeaway: iOS 8 will allow users to block cookies from everywhere except the "current website." It's not enabled by default, but when checked it results in a net increase in cookie privacy for the end user because "third-parties and advertisers" is not specific enough. Questionable developers could mis-identify their cookies to get around the iOS 7 setting. If an iOS 8 user selects "Not from current website" all cookies not from that domain will be automatically blocked.

People Picker

(dev settings) The new "People Picker" in iOS 8 allows app developers to request access to only a selected contact instead of having to request access to access to your entire Contacts list. This new option only gives the app a temporary (or "static") copy of a contact rather than full-time access to all contacts, including changes, in perpetuity.

I hate it when iOS apps request access to my Contacts (ostensibly to "let me know when my friends join the service" or some similar garbage) because this usually means that the developer copies my entire contact list to its server, at will, where it's stored indefinitely. Once your contacts are on someone else's server, they're vulnerable to abuse (internally) and to hacking (externally). I almost always deny Contacts access and encourage you to do the same. Let's all encourage developers to only request access to Contacts using the People Picker on an as-needed basis.

An example of how this could be used is AnyList, an excellent list sharing app that I use often. When I installed it, I granted the app Contacts access so that I could share a grocery list with my wife. I checked Settings > Privacy > Contacts and sure enough, AnyList had full-time and permanent access to my contacts when all it need was access to one contact at one time. I hope that AnyList adopts Apple's new People Picker in iOS 8 out of respect for its customer's privacy. 

In addition to the five major privacy changes in iOS 8 listed above, Apple's also increasing privacy options in the following areas:


  • Send Location To Apple When Battery Reaches Low Level
  • DuckDuckGo Search
  • Auto-Delete Messages
  • Home data settings

Stay tuned for more.

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