The biggest recent news involving Apple and privacy may be that the company has paused its controversial move to scan users’ iPhones for images of child sexual abuse. Despite the severe backlash from privacy advocates, I think it’s fair to say that Apple is still tops among the tech giants when it comes to protecting user privacy.
Since around 2018, Apple has introduced one privacy-preserving feature after another with each major release of an iOS. And with the release of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15–both available as free upgrades starting today—things are no different this year. Apple has packed the iPhone’s and iPad’s new operating systems with eight major privacy and security upgrades. Here’s what they are, why they matter, and how to use them.
Hide your IP address when using Safari
What it is: iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 features an improved Intelligent Tracking Prevention that stops websites and trackers from knowing your real IP address.
Why it’s important: Every iPhone—like every other device with an internet connection– has a unique IP address. Sites and companies can use it to identify you and build a profile of your online activity. But now iOS 15 allows you to hide your real IP from the trackers that sites and advertisers use to identify you.How to enable it: Open Settings > Safari > Hide IP Address. Then tap Tracker Only. Alternately, you can tap Trackers and Websites if you have iCloud Plus (see below).
Mail Privacy Protection
What it is: It keeps your IP address and email actions private from senders who insert tracking pixels into their messages.
Why it’s important: Tracking pixels are a tool advertisers use to monitor the way you interact with their emails. A tracking pixel is a remote, invisible image that calls back to the sender’s server when you open an email. It tells the sender exactly when you’ve opened it, your IP, your location, and more. Mail Privacy Protection blocks tracking pixels by automatically downloading all remote images the second you receive an email and also blocks your real IP and location from being known. This effectively makes tracking pixels useless, protecting your privacy.
How to enable it: Go to Settings > Mail > Privacy Protection. Toggle the switch next to Protect Mail Privacy to ON (green). Also, toggle the switch next to Hide IP Address to On (green).
Share current location just once
What it is: Allows you to grant apps access to your current location for one-time use only.
Why it’s important: Apps have long been able to ask for access to your current location. This location-targeting is extremely useful as it allows mapping apps to show you where you are and ride-sharing apps to know where to pick you up. But why should an app get to know where you are all the time? In iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, you can decide to allow an app to know your current location for one time only. The app will get access to your location until a session is complete (like a rideshare, for example). The app will then have to ask you to share your location again the next time it wants access to it.
How to enable it: Developers themselves must support this feature in their apps, but once they do, the next time the app asks for your location, instead of choosing between “always allow” or “never” you will be able to select the option for granting access just this one time.
App Privacy Report
What it is: App Privacy Report shows you which apps have accessed your iPhone’s sensors and cameras in the past seven days, as well as what data the apps are accessing, and where they are sending that data.
Why it’s important: Many of us have dozens if not hundreds of apps on our iPhone. And many of those apps are accessing our cameras, photos, location, and microphones, not to mention sucking up other data about us and sending it back to third-party services and advertisers. The App Privacy Report will show you just what each app is accessing and the data it is collecting and sending off. This transparency helps to better inform you as to which apps you may want to delete.
How to enable it: Go to Settings > Privacy > App Privacy Report. You can tap on any app listed to find out more about what data it is accessing and the network activity associated with the app.
Store and autofill 2FA codes
What it is: 2FA—short for two-factor authentication—requires you to enter a code as well as a password for logging into a service or app. Most sites let you choose between either receiving the codes by text message (which is less secure) or by retrieving them from a third-party app, such as Google Authenticator or Microsoft Authenticator. But with iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, authenticator features are built right into the operating system.
Why it’s important: 2FA is a critical part of keeping your data secure. However, 2FA’s pain point is that because you need to enter a code in addition to your password when logging into one of your accounts, it takes longer—especially if you have to wait on a text message or dig into an authenticator app to retrieve the code. But with iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, 2FA codes are automatically inserted into a website or app. This ease of use could spur more users to adopt 2FA.
How to enable it: As with any authenticator app, to enable iOS 15’s and iPadOS 15’s 2FA you’ll need to link your accounts’ 2FA features to iOS 15’s and iPadOS 15’s authenticator. First log into your account on the web (such as your bank or healthcare account), sign up for 2FA, then open the Settings app, tap Passwords, tap on the account you want to sync 2FA codes for, and then tap “Set Up Verification Code,” and follow the steps. Once you’ve done this, iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 will automatically autofill 2FA codes in the future when a site or app asks for them.
Siri requests are now processed on-device
What it is: On select iPhones and iPads, Siri will process all your requests on the device itself, rather than sending the data to Apple’s servers to process.
Why it’s important: Voice assistants can be very useful tools, but they traditionally work by sending your requests to remote servers to be processed—a potential privacy threat. Keeping the process on the device eliminates this risk.
How to enable it: There’s no setting you need to turn on to activate Siri on-device processing. Your iPhone and iPad will process Siri requests on-device automatically if it’s capable of doing so. Devices that support on-device Siri processing include any iPhone or iPad with an A12 chip or newer. For iPhone, that includes the iPhone XS and XR series and later.
Hide your real email address (iCloud Plus)
What it is: A feature of the iCloud Plus subscription service, this allows you to give websites a unique, random email address, which forwards messages received to your real email address.
Why it’s important: Giving a site a unique email address makes it harder to track you around the web via your email or identify who you are (many emails we use feature our full names). But Hide My Email also lets you quickly destroy any unique email you have used, meaning any messages sent to it never make it through to your real inbox. This lets you easily cut off spammy sites and accounts.
How to enable it: You’ll need to subscribe to iCloud Plus if you want access to Hide My Email. If so, the feature will be activated by default, and the next time you create an account on the web in Safari or in an app, you’ll have the option of using your real email address or giving the site and app an automatically-generated random email address. You’ll also find this option built into the iPhone’s Mail app.
Browse the web more privately with Private Relay
What it is: Private Relay is part of Apple’s paid iCloud plans—now known as iCloud Plus—and is launching as a public beta. People colloquially call it “Apple’s VPN,” but it’s more accurate to compare it to Apple’s version of the Tor network. Private Relay hides your IP address from the websites you go to and encrypts your internet traffic by bouncing it through two servers. This means your ISP, the website you’re visiting, and even Apple itself, never know your web activity.
Why it’s important: It’s incredibly easy for advertisers, companies, and even hackers to track us online. VPNs can help shield our activity, but they are costly and you need to be sure you are going with a trustworthy one. VPNs can also be complicated for the nontechnically inclined. But since it’s baked into iOS itself, iCloud Private Relay takes all the hassle out of setting up a VPN.
How to enable it: You’ll need to subscribe to iCloud Plus if you want access to iCloud Private Relay. Once you have, go to Settings > Your Name > iCloud > Private Relay. Toggle the switch next to Private Relay to On (green).