At its annual WWDC developer conference on June 7, Apple announced its major update to iOS 15. The new version brings several new features and will be widely available from fall 2021, while in July, it will be available as the public beta version.

●      iOS 15 will make Facetime more complete and calls more natural and realistic, thanks to 3D audio and voice isolation.

●      With SharePlay, users should be able to share different experiences on screen.

●      This update will allow users to stay in “Focus”, by customizing and selecting high-priority apps and alerts to cut out distractions.

●      Live Text is one iMessage improvement, thanks to on-device intelligence. For instance, users can search and identify a photo of a text, like a hand-written family recipe, or capture a phone number from a showcase, with the option to make a call.

“For many customers, iPhone has become indispensable, and this year we’ve created even more ways it can enhance our daily lives,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering. “iOS 15 helps users stay connected while sharing experiences in real-time, gives them new tools to help reduce distraction and find focus, uses intelligence to enhance the photos experience, and, with huge upgrades to Maps, brings new ways to explore the world...”

Photo by Laurenz Heymann

As known to many, Apple has been focusing on privacy since iOS 13 and iOS 14. In April, they introduced iOS 14.5, the “App Tracking Transparency”, continuing to work on increasing transparency on iPhone data collection and tracking for its affectionate users.

Recently, Apple’s advertising campaigns have emphasized privacy and how to be more explicit about what happens to the data you share with iPhone apps. In a press release a few months ago, Craig Federighi pointed out the importance of this theme and explained that Apple’s goal is to “create technology that keeps people’s information safe and secure.” He adds that: “Privacy means peace of mind, it means security, and it means you’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to your data,” he said. “Our goal is to create technology that keeps people’s information safe and secure. We believe privacy is a fundamental human right, and our teams work every day to incorporate it into everything we do.”

So what’s coming next for iPhone privacy in iOS 15? How might that affect the location analytics and location intelligence industry?

Main Privacy Updates

Apple Privacy Report

As a follow-up to the App Tracking Transparency, Apple introduced the new App Privacy Report in iOS 15. The new privacy report feature will provide users with details of how 3rd parties are using their opt-in tracking data. Now users will be able to see how often apps have accessed your location, photos, camera, microphone, and contacts in the last week. It also shows which apps share data with 3rd party domains and how often.

Mail Privacy Protection

Emails are not as private as you might think. Most marketing emails contain trackers – hidden pixel-sized images that know when you open the email. They collect a lot of data, including your IP address, from which they can also pinpoint your location. There are already some browser extensions that block these invisible email trackers. With Mail Privacy Protection, Apple allows its users to block both of these tracking methods: hiding your IP address and location and your email read status.

Hide My email feature

Using this setting, users can hide their real email address when signing up for apps using their Apple ID. They can decide whether to keep their email address private and stop receiving emails from an app whenever they want.

iCloud Plus features

Apple announced that there will be some new privacy features also for iCloud Plus subscribers.

●      Private Relay is like a VPN built into Safari. How does it work? When browsing the web using Safari and iCloud+, Private Relay encrypts internet traffic, avoiding the interception by third parties and making it harder for advertisers and internet service providers to track its browsing history.

●      Hide my email will allow you to enter a randomly generated email when you sign up for a new app, like a new account with an online retailer – and the feature will ensure that whatever is sent is forwarded directly to your actual email address. In this way, fewer companies will have access to users’ direct email addresses.

Siri gets offline as new iOS 15 feature

iOS 15 will enable users to use Siri offline. Apple has added on-device speech recognition. Now Siri, instead of processing requests on Apple’s servers, will process them locally, on the device. An Apple spokesperson reported: “This addresses one of the biggest privacy concerns for voice assistants, which is unwanted audio recording. For many requests, Siri processing is also moving on-device, enabling requests to be processed without the internet connection, such as launching apps, setting timers and alarms, changing settings or controlling music.”

Share location just once

From iOS 15 onward, there will be a new custom button in apps that will allow users to share their current location for one time without turning switching it on or off manually in settings. Once an app is closed, it will not have access to the user location. Currently, Apple has replaced accurate location sharing with approximate geolocation to provide more privacy and security to its users.

Crosswalk in long-exposure
Photo by mauro mora

Impact on data collection

As Apple says, these updates are built to give more control over privacy and security to their users. However, other players, such as tech giants like Facebook, Pinterest, and Snap, structure their ads campaigns and targeting strategies on data collected from devices, apps, etc.

Many companies collect data and insights to understand consumer behavior and interests. This gives them the advantage to adapt their strategies, offers, and services to boost revenues and improve the customer experience. For sure, some location intelligence solutions will be exposed to these restrictions. This might heavily decrease the data volume and quality of providers that rely on cheap bitstream data from low-quality mobile apps. More users, having a choice, will opt to block or restrict online data collection and tracking. We are continuously increasing privacy settings and restrictions for end users. Therefore the high-quality data sources are crucial in the location analytics space.