Apple's next update for the software on your iPhone, iOS 14.5, might be the most important one it has ever released -- at least from the perspective of the company's focus on privacy. At the company's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) last year, Apple talked about two specific changes that were coming, and both have the potential to completely change the way we interact with software on our devices.
There were two major changes to iOS 14 that Apple talked about last year during its WWDC. The first was the "privacy nutrition labels" that every developer is required to include with their apps in the App Store. Those went live as developers updated their apps earlier this year. The other is the one getting all the attention right now.
App Tracking Transparency
By far the biggest thing coming to iOS 14.5 is Apple's new App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature. This requires developers to request permission before they can track users, something many, if not most, of the apps people use every day do already. This is the change that Facebook has spent a lot of effort complaining about publicly, and it's the change that will likely have the largest effect on advertisers.
In an interview with Kara Swisher on her podcast, Sway, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that ATT is coming in "just a few weeks now." Probably more important than when it arrives, is what it's meant to do.
"What it tries to get at is companies that are taking advantage of tracking you across apps of other companies, and therefore putting together an entire profile of what you're thinking, what you're doing, surveilling you across the web 24/7," Cook said about the feature.
Apple hasn't been shy about its feelings towards apps that track users, but the biggest problem it's trying to solve is that most users have no idea it's happening at all. As for how it affects you, Cook explained the feature this way:
"They'll see a simple pop-up that basically prompts them to answer the question of, are they OK with being tracked or not? If they are, things move on. If they're not, then the tracking is turned off for that individual with respect to that specific app."
iPhone Unlock with Apple Watch
Less notable, but no less useful, this is probably the best feature coming to 14.5, especially if you have an Apple Watch and use an iPhone with FaceID. Obviously, FaceID isn't very useful when you're out and wearing a mask.
Now, however, if the iPhone detects that you are wearing a mask, it will look to see if you are wearing an Apple Watch that has been unlocked by your iPhone. If it detects one in close proximity, it will unlock your iPhone.
When it does, you get a notification on your watch, with the option to lock your device in the event someone else has picked it up and you would rather they not have access to your personal information. Honestly, this feature may be developed for the pandemic, but it's a game-changer. I've been using it for a few months, and it works reliably almost all the time.
Privacy Nutrition Labels
Though they are not technically new, it's also worth paying attention to the privacy nutrition labels Apple now requires all developers to have for their apps in the App Store. The idea is that the developer has to tell you what information they collect and how they use it before they ask you for permission to track you.
In that sense, it's important to see the labels and the ATT pop-up as two pieces of the same move to give you more control over how your personal information is used. It wouldn't make much sense to require developers to ask you for permission before they track you if they didn't have to tell you what they track and who they share it with.
I encourage you to look through the labels for the apps you use regularly. There's a good chance you might be surprised. In fact, just like the labels on the food we eat -- which many people ignore -- they don't do you any good if you don't read them and make informed decisions based on the data they track.
[NOTE: This article was updated 4/26 to reflect Apple's release of iOS 14.5]