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Apple takes aim at Facebook and Google with new iOS privacy features

The latest iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 13, has had a rocky start regarding security.

In the weeks following the platform’s launch, Apple has been forced to release a string of updates to fix bugs and critical security flaws.

This has largely overshadowed the new privacy features that iOS 13 offers. Nevertheless, they are still worth paying close attention to as they pit Apple directly against two of its biggest competitors: Facebook and Google.

The features include permission requests for location services and background apps which track users’ activities. This will alert users to covert data-gathering on their devices.

Increased consumer awareness of data-gathering by third-party apps which trade on precise knowledge of user whereabouts and personal tastes will deal a blow to data-kingpins Google and Facebook. Of the headline privacy features introduced by Apple, two, in particular, appear to be directly targeted at these two competitors. Messaging apps can no longer collect device data in the background, and location tracking has been limited.

Facebook uses its WhatsApp and Messenger apps to extend its surveillance of user’s devices outside of its social media platform, and Apple is flagging this up for users. Google, meanwhile, will reveal any residual location tracking from its Maps and other services complete with geographical details and an opt-out function.

Essentially independent from targeted-ad revenue, Apple can add privacy features across its pre-existing product portfolio with close to zero inconvenience to its own business model, while causing a major inconvenience for competitors.

Also in Apple’s firing line are a whole host of third-party apps which act like cookies for smartphones, carrying out their own smaller-scale surveillance. Measures against these apps include single-instance permission prompts for location services, Bluetooth and WiFi tracking, and the new Sign In With Apple feature. Single-instance permissions will ensure that apps only track users’ locations and device activity for specific operations. Trackers will not be allowed to run in the background after an app has been closed.

Sign In With Apple generates single-use login details to bypass third-party apps that request users’ email addresses. Whilst not directly targeting its competitors, these features may be even more significant for Apple. They could set new privacy expectations for app developers, with Apple setting the standard. Apple is delivering on promises originally made when it entered the services sector with Apple Pay. Continuing to deliver will distinguish it from Google in particular as that company pushes into the mobile devices market.

However, in challenging fellow heavyweights, Apple opens itself up to scrutiny. In the future, it should ensure that its own security measures are watertight before taking aim at its competitors.

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