The iOS 12.2 beta Apple released yesterday had a ton of new goodies, like a new giraffe, shark, owl, and boar Animoji as well as bringing Apple News to Canada. However, the company also slipped in a new privacy feature aimed at protecting users from websites scooping up their moment and orientation data.
Few people are aware that websites can access the gyroscope and accelerometer data in most smartphones. There are legitimate reasons websites do this, such as displaying immersive motion-based content–as Apple’s own iPhone experience site does. Other sites use your smartphone’s gyroscope and accelerometer data to provide web-based AR or VR experiences.
However, nefarious individuals can also collect a smartphone’s gyroscope and accelerometer data and use it to identify and track users–and even use the sensors’ data as a key logger of sorts to help them gain access to your PINs. As ArsTechnica reported back in 2011, “Researchers at Georgia Tech and MIT have developed a proof of concept to demonstrate that it is possible to record a computer user’s keystrokes using an iPhone 4’s accelerometer.” And a 2018 report notes how researchers can use your device’s motion data to detect your unique biometric gate signature to identify who you are.
In the most recent iOS 12.2 beta, Apple has put a stop to websites having free reign to your motion and orientation data. Now there is a new “Motion & Orientation Access” toggle under Settings > Safari > Privacy & Security. It’s off by default, which means no website can gain access to your gyroscope and accelerometer data.
But this also means some websites that have features that rely on their data may not work under the new default settings. You can, of course, toggle the “Motion & Orientation Access” switch to “on,” giving websites access to your data, but as an opt-in experience, many users may not know the toggle even exists.
One solution Apple could end up implementing is a system notification pop-up when viewing a website that would alert the user to let them know the website is requesting their motion and orientation data and asking the user if they want to allow the website to have it.
But regardless, the move to give users the option to restrict gyroscope and accelerometer data from websites is yet another example of how Apple is continuing to be at the cutting edge when it comes to providing security and privacy for its users.