iPhone privacy: Experts warn it's nearly impossible

iPhone privacy: Experts warn it's nearly impossible

Experts caution that maintaining privacy on iPhones is a daunting task. Despite appearances, concealing your data from Apple proves nearly impossible, according to their findings.

A recent investigation delves into the default applications on iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks, revealing that they continue to gather personal information even when seemingly inactive.

This pioneering study scrutinizes Apple's default app privacy settings, including Safari, Siri, Family Sharing, iMessage, FaceTime, Location Services, Find My, and Touch ID. The objective? To assess whether Apple aligns with its 'Privacy. That's Apple.' mantra.

Janne Lindqvist, Associate Professor at Aalto University's computer science department in Finland, highlights the challenge: "We focused on apps that are an integral part of the platform and ecosystem. These apps are glued to the platform, and getting rid of them is virtually impossible. Due to the way the user interface is designed, users don't know what is going on. For example, the user is given the option to enable or not enable Siri, Apple's virtual assistant. But enabling only refers to whether you use Siri's voice control. Siri collects data in the background from other apps you use, regardless of your choice, unless you understand how to go into the settings and specifically change that".

In other words, while users can toggle Siri's activation, the scope remains limited to voice control. Behind the scenes, Siri harvests data from other applications unless users navigate intricate settings to opt-out.

Ensuring privacy on Apple devices demands expertise and persistence, the study underscores. Online instructions are labyrinthine, lacking comprehensive steps or data usage explanations.

In interviews, participants attempted to adjust settings, but success remained elusive. While some made initial strides, none shielded their data entirely. Moreover, navigating settings proved time-consuming and convoluted.

Amel Bourdoucen, a doctoral researcher at Aalto, highlights the complexity of online instructions: "The online instructions for restricting data access are very complex and confusing, and the steps required are scattered in different places. There's no clear direction on whether to go to the app settings, the central settings – or even both. It turned out that the participants weren't able to prevent any of the apps from sharing their data with other applications or the service provider."

While the researchers can't definitively discern Apple's data usage, they surmise it largely aids Siri's AI development and personalization features.

Their study, slated for presentation at the esteemed CHI conference in mid-May, advocates for clearer guidelines. One suggestion involves exploring third-party alternatives like Firefox to replace default apps like Safari.