4 iOS 15 privacy features you should know: Siri, Mail and more


CEO Tim Cook opens WWDC 2021.

Screenshot by CNET

This story is part of WWDC 2021. All the latest coverage from Apple’s annual developers conference.

Apple’s iOS 15 arrived back in summer, and, as expected, the tech giant took steps to burnish its privacy credentials. We got our first official glimpse of the operating system at the company’s annual developer conference WWDC 2021, after which it went on public beta for months undergoing a variety of tweaks leading to its final release. Good news though, it’s now available for download, and here’s how to check if your phone can run iOS 15.

Once you’ve downloaded the operating system, you’ll have access to Apple’s new FaceTime features that, for the first time, let Android and PC users participate. You’ll also get iMessage improvements that make it easier to track links and photos your friends have sent. And there’s access to plenty of new privacy and security features included with iOS 15, though a set of features designed to protect children from sexual predators on some of its iPhones will not be one of them. Either way, if you’re like me — one of the billion-plus people that use an iPhone — then I’d say it’s worth learning about new privacy updates available on Apple’s latest OS as well as going ahead and changing some of your settings right away.

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Read more: iOS beta on iPhone: 3 things you absolutely need to know before you install

In a nutshell the privacy changes, unveiled in June, will give you better control of the data you’re sharing with third parties and will tell you how those apps are using data from your Apple devices. In some cases, the changes also limit data collection. Even though these privacy changes might not drastically change your day-to-day experience — except maybe in the case of Siri — they’re worth knowing about. They can alter how your Apple device interacts with the internet, specifically third parties that crave your personal information. 

Keep in mind, Apple has long been using privacy as a selling point to stand out from rivals like Google and Facebook. Even though the Cupertino-based company has been harping about protecting consumer data from digital advertisers and internet service providers, it has reportedly bolstered its own search ad business at the same time, and also hired (and then fired) a former ad executive from Facebook.

There’s also a catch: Most new privacy features are available for free, but not all of them. To take advantage of the other ones, you’ll either have to own a newer Apple device or pony up some cash to buy a new one.

These privacy changes have digital advertisers and even journalists behind popular newsletters up in arms for reasons that I won’t get into here. But they’re good news for you, regardless of what Apple’s motives might be.

Siri gets more secure thanks to in-device audio processing

With iOS 15, one of the biggest privacy concerns for voice assistants will be stamped out, according to Apple.

Unlike Amazon Echo and virtually all other competitors, Siri will no longer ship your audio to servers for processing. Instead it’ll process the sound of your voice directly on your Apple device, thanks to on-device speech recognition. Apple said iPhones and iPads will take advantage of processing power on Apple devices to analyze speech, meaning Siri will no longer need an active internet connection to function. For you that means, Siri will respond to basic commands such as setting an alarm, setting a reminder or launching an app while offline. This update doesn’t include asking Siri to search the web for something.

Beyond amped-up privacy, Apple says you can expect Siri’s response time to speed up for some requests, since the audio processing can now happen offline.

As I said earlier, some privacy features have a catch. For this one, Only iPhone and iPads stacked with the A12 Bionic chip can take advantage of Siri’s in-device audio processing when it rolls out.

App Privacy report will give you important info on third-party access to data and sensors

If you were a fan of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature, then you’ll probably love the App Privacy report too. Taking a page from Safari’s playbook, the report will be a new section accessible in Settings, giving you an overview of how apps treat your privacy. You can see when individual apps request to access features like the camera, microphone, and also see where or with whom your data might be shared within the last seven days, bringing an added layer of transparency to iOS 15.

Apple gave us a sneak peek of its upcoming App Privacy Report during WWDC 2021.

Apple/Screenshot by Sareena Dayaram
Safari & Mail Privacy Protection: Hides your IP address

Apple’s Mail Privacy protection feature coming to the Mail app will limit the amount of data senders collect from you when you open their promotional emails or even newsletters. In particular, the feature will give you the option to hide your IP address, so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location. This feature can potentially block spammy email marketers from learning more about your email or internet activity. 

Here’s how Apple described it: 

“In the Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. The new feature helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email, and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.

Apple also said IP address obfuscation will happen on Safari.

iCloud Plus private relay feature encrypts web traffic

Apple also announced the paid subscribers to iCloud Plus will get a couple of new privacy features. 

One of them is Safari’s private relay feature, which is designed to hide an individual’s web browsing behavior from advertisers and internet service providers. It’ll do this by encrypting the traffic leaving an Apple device, so that it cannot be intercepted by third-parties including Apple, who can then go on to read what’s being searched for.

The second feature is called hide my email. If you’re a subscriber, it will let you enter a randomly generated email when you’re signing up for things — such as a new account with an online retailer — and the feature will have whatever it’s sent forwarded directly to your actual email address. The idea is that fewer companies will have access to people’s direct email addresses. 



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