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What Apple’s big privacy changes to iOS mean to you

April 26, 2021, 11:42 PM UTC

Apple has released a much-anticipated update to its operating system that will give iPhone and iPad users a slew of new features including more control over giving companies access to their data. 

The update, made available Monday, limits the amount of user data that apps like Amazon, Google, and Facebook collect by letting users opt out of what they track across different apps.  

The change, part of the iOS 14.5 update, is a big step for Apple, the first big tech company to make such sweeping privacy changes. Stephen Beck, founder of consulting firm cg42, said quarterly surveys have shown that consumers’ trust in Big Tech’s handling of their personal information has been mostly declining since 2016.  

“When the average person thinks about this, they don’t…trust any of these tech companies to respect and protect their privacy,” Beck said. “But Apple is trying to change that. They’re attempting to put you in control.”

Here’s what you need to know.

What’s included in the iOS 14.5 update?

With the update, users will be able to choose a new voice for Siri, unlock their iPhones and Apple Watches while wearing a mask, and select different skin tones for emojis showing couples. But the most drastic update is the app tracking transparency feature, which will require apps to get users’ permission before tracking their data on other apps or websites, or sharing it with third parties. 

Apps that collect data outside their service will prompt users for permission. Users can allow it or ask the app not to track them. They can also open their settings and change their selection at any time.

How will the privacy settings affect my apps?

The new privacy settings are expected to create friction for services like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, which previously have had access to data including users’ purchase history, location data, and browsing history. The data has allowed apps to provide discount offers to users based on their locations or give discounts on items that users may have put in their digital shopping carts but not yet purchased.  

Facebook has warned that the change will hurt small businesses the most, as they often rely on the Facebook ads to reach their customers. Meanwhile, Google is adding its own identifiers to help track user behavior as it phases out third-party cookies and considers privacy features for Android that would be similar to those from Apple.

But for users, the functionality of their apps is not expected to change, even if they opt out of being tracked. The only change users may see are ads that are less relevant.

“No one wakes up and says, I can’t wait to see some good ads today,” Beck said. “Ads in general are an interruption…and get in the way of the service.”

The pros and cons

Apple is giving users the power to choose, and both options have some benefits.

Users who decline to opt out may see more relevant ads on their social media feeds or in their apps. Instead of seeing a generic ad for Target’s new line of air fresheners, users could be offered a discount on a specific item they were considering buying for weeks. Users also could help small local businesses reach them more easily if they allow tracking. However, companies would continue to collect data that isn’t central to the operation of their apps and could build a profile about users for purely commercial purposes. 

If users opt out, they can keep more of their data private. Companies like Facebook have suggested that this could make the experience of using their apps worse. But Beck said even though Apple will allow users to opt out of tracking, companies may still find other ways to collect user data.

“Let’s not pretend this issue is solved by the moves [Apple is] making,” he said. “But it does put them in a position to say, ‘You’re in control.'”

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