Apple’s iOS 14.3 has launched, including a game-changing new privacy feature. Here’s how to use it.
This week Apple launched iOS 14.3, bringing with it a bunch of cool new iPhone features. Perhaps the most game-changing of these is the new privacy “nutrition labels,” which detail the data an app collects about you on the Apple App Store page.
Among the benefits, the privacy labels in iOS 14.3 allow you to see the information an app will collect about you—such as your location or phone number—before you even download it. That means you can assess whether the app is worth the trade-off before you decide to install it on your iPhone.
Apple made the app privacy labels a requirement from December 8, and they appear on the page as of iOS 14.3. So how do you use them, and what privacy red flags do you have to look out for?
How to use iOS 14.3’s new privacy labels
It’s easy to find the iPhone privacy labels—once you’ve updated to iOS 14.3, go to the Apple App Store and click on the app you are considering downloading or purchasing. Then scroll down the app page to App Privacy, and there you will find the detailed privacy label.
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The first section, “Data used to Track You” shows the data that might be used to track you on your iPhone for advertising purposes—for example your contact information.
The next section “Data Linked to You” is the information that can be collected by the app and linked to your identity—for example your location or contact information. The front page shows this generally, and if you click through you can see more detail (for example location might be “precise location” and/or “coarse location”).
The next section is the data not linked to you—in many cases, usage data or diagnostics.
The data collected by apps may vary depending on the permissions you give, or your age and other factors linked to data protection regulation such as the EU’s GDPR.
Some apps collect a lot more data than others
Now some apps collect a lot more data than others. I started with the Apple TV app, as it’s one I use at home. Linked information includes purchases and contact information and device IDs.
I also checked the Facebook app, which I deleted on my iPhone some time ago and occasionally use on a browser. Now unsurprisingly, the Facebook list is hefty, as you can see from the screenshot below from the section “Data Used to Track You.”
The “Data Linked to You” section is also a long scrolling list including your search history and browsing history.
I asked Facebook for a comment and will update this article if the firm responds
iOS 14.3 privacy labels—how to choose the apps you download
There’s no doubt iOS 14.3’s new privacy labels are useful, but how do you decide which apps are safe? It comes down to who you trust, and in some cases the data an app collects may prompt alarm bells. For example, why does a given app need access to your location? If it’s for weather, it will need to know where you are, but not so much for a TV app.
Also bear in mind that you can adjust your permissions for apps in your iPhone privacy settings, so downloading an app doesn’t mean you are automatically allowing it to have all the data it requests. You can also turn off the ability for apps to track you using my guide.
“These easy to use, readable labels are a huge step forward for privacy and they will make it easier for users to decide whether free apps and services are really worth the trade with their own personal data,” says Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET.
A word of caution
But at the same time, do not rely on the privacy labels alone when you download an iPhone app. They are simply a guideline.
“It’s important for users to know that App Privacy is self-reported by the company making the app, and not vetted by Apple,” warns Johnny Lin, an ex-Apple engineer and creator of Lockdown Privacy, an app that blocks trackers.
“Just because the privacy of an app looks good, does not mean that you should immediately feel safe giving it all your personal data. The aim of App Privacy is to increase public awareness about privacy and tracking, not to give people a green light on using an app.”
In general, Moore advises you think carefully before downloading any iPhone app. “If an app, free or paid for, which you may use just once or twice wants to know your name, location, phone number and have access to your photos and other sensitive data, then I would seriously consider whether the trade-off is worth it. Do you really do need that app?”
I agree. With iOS 14, Apple has given all iPhone users far more control over their data, adding transparency over how information is used. The privacy labels, combined with iOS 14’s other privacy settings, are certainly a powerful tool.