iOS 11.3: New iPhone update adds messages to tell people when Apple is gathering data

The move comes amid growing worry about how other major tech companies such as Facebook process people's information

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 29 March 2018 17:58
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The new update brings fresh animoji – as well as more serious data features
The new update brings fresh animoji – as well as more serious data features

Apple has released its latest iPhone update. And perhaps its biggest change isn't really a change at all.

The update brings with it a whole range of features, including the power management tools that Apple has long promised to fix after its battery controversy. But probably the most noticeable change is new boxes that will pop up to everyone, giving information about privacy and data use – not highlighting new features but instead pointing out old ones.

Those pop-ups will first appear when people update the phone, as part of the usual setup process, and will give people general information about the way their phone collects and uses data. They will continue to appear as people navigate through using the phone: every Apple app that gathers information about its user will show one of the boxes, which will describe how that data is being processed.

Apple has long been far more privacy conscious than other major tech companies – a point that has been made as increasing pressure is turned on Facebook over alleged abuse of user data. The new features are being added partly in response to the new GDPR regulations on data that will come into force in May, but are in keeping with the companies historical commitment to openness and responsible use of data.

The new pop-ups allow Apple to emphasise that fact, while ensuring that people know how their data is being used. Despite their relatively conservative approach to data collection, the company does still gather information on its users, such as what music they listen to and what news stories they read.

The first time users boot up their phone, they will see a message that explains that there is new branding in iOS and that there will be more information available about how data is being used. Then, when they open an app that uses that data – such as the App Store – they'll see a message explaining how it is being done, which they can tap for a full rundown of all the ways data is being collected and analysed.

Similar pages will be available in macOS and tvOS, all of which have been newly updated. They will all use the same branding.

Apple's new privacy push will see further releases in May. Then, Apple will roll out a special page to allow people to take control of their data – and delete it, if they wish.

The page will be part of the Apple ID account settings. By navigating to it, people will be able to get a copy of their data, correct it, deactivate their account so that Apple can't use its data or delete the account entirely and permanently.

At the same time the new update rolls out, Apple will update its privacy page. That will include information about the ways that people can protect their personal data, and information on how that data is being collected and used by Apple.

That page makes clear that Apple for the most part avoids collecting data as much as it can – an approach that has occasionally led it to be criticised for not having some of the same data-powered features that are present in products made by competitors such as Google. Apple uses techniques like differential privacy, for instance, which allows it to see trends in how people are using products without them actually being able to see anything about how individual people are doing so.

While many of the new updates are being rolled out as part of Apple's commitment to introducing GDPR, they are being made available everywhere, not just in Europe.

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