Apple never misses a chance to brand itself as a tech company that puts our privacy before its profits—and this year’s annual developer conference was no exception. By the time the virtual keynote wrapped up earlier today, the company announced a slew of new privacy-protective tech that’d be rolled into the newest updates to its upcoming OS.
First up is the introduction of what Apple’s calling “Approximate Location,” which is set for rollout with the iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 this coming fall. As Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi explained to Fast Company, the latest software update will allow users to dictate that an app only hoover their “approximate location”—accurate to few miles of wherever they might be standing—rather than their precise latitude and longitude.
In order to come up with these approximations, Apple divvied up the entire globe into a certain number of regions approximately 10 miles across, and gave each one a certain identifier. If a user wants to tell a given app to hoover up their “approximate” rather than “precise” location, this is the identifier that gets hoovered by that app. And because these regions are literally miles across, it’s effectively impossible for the app to get a given user’s precise coordinates if the user doesn’t want them to.
Aside from location tracking, the iOS 14 is also coming with a camera and microphone recording indicator baked in. Similar to the camera light that’s already present on your average Mac computer, this little light will sit at the top of an iOS device’s status bar to let users know whether their front or rear camera—or their mic—might be turned on.
The new iOS update will also overhaul the way advertisers can track and target users in-app or across the web. App developers are also going to be required to self-report the permissions that their apps ask for, so a given developer can’t, say, secretly hoover up a user’s location or identifying details without Apple—or the user—knowing about it.
Time will tell whether these small tweaks will actually result in substantial privacy changes to developer practices or the way average people use their iOS devices. Regardless of whether they do or don’t, at least we can be sure that Apple will take credit for it.