Apple’s (AAPL) iOS 15, now available for the iPhone 6 and later versions of the iPhone, offers an array of improvements — including the ability to watch movies with distant friends via FaceTime and an improved Weather app.
But some of the biggest changes come in the form of privacy upgrades that limit the ability for advertisers, or anyone for that matter, to track you online. We’re talking about the ability to keep email senders from knowing if you’ve opened their messages, to keeping your online activity safe from potential hackers.
Since there are a bunch of privacy-related features in iOS 15, I’m breaking down the top three and how you can use them.
iCloud Private Relay protects your web traffic
Included in iOS 15 is a beta version of Apple’s pseudo-virtual private network called iCloud Private Relay. It’s not exactly the same as a virtual private network app like, say, Private Internet Access, which routes your Safari web traffic through third-party servers to protect your information, but the end result is similar.
Instead, iCloud Private Relay encrypts web traffic leaving your device, then routes your data requests through two separate relays, preventing anyone, including Apple itself, from seeing what you’re doing online.
The feature is perfect for situations when you need to jump on an open Wifi connection at, say, a coffee shop or even in your hotel room, where hackers can snoop on your web activity and steal your information.
To use iCloud Private Relay, you’ll need to have an iCloud+ account, which is the new name for a paid version of iCloud. I pay $0.99 per month for my iCloud+ account to get 50GB of online storage, and still get access to iCloud Private Relay, so you don’t have to worry about spending a ton of cash to use the option.
Once you’re signed up for iCloud+, or if you have an account already, you can open the Settings app and navigate to iCloud. From there, select the iCloud button, tap Private Relay (Beta), and turn the switch to the on position.
It’s important to keep in mind that the feature only works with Safari on your device. So if you’re a Chrome user, you won’t get any of the protections from iCloud Private Relay.
Mail Privacy Protection
You likely receive a number of marketing emails. But you may not know that when you receive emails, the sender often embeds a tracking pixel, an invisible piece of the message that allows marketers to see if you opened the message, when, and learn your IP address. The idea is that by better understanding your email reading habits, marketers can fire off messages that you’ll end up reading, including those that offer items for sale.
If you want your email habits to remain your business and yours alone, iOS 15’s Mail Privacy Protection is the tool for you.
The feature automatically downloads remote content when it hits your mailbox, to keep marketers from understanding when and if you’ve opened their messages. To keep them from learning your IP address, Mail Privacy Protection sends the downloaded content through several proxy servers.
To enable Mail Privacy Protection, open the Settings app, select Mail, and choose Privacy Protection. From there turn on Protect Mail Activity, and you’ll start being protected.
Unfortunately, the same protection doesn’t carry over to third-party mail apps like Gmail. So if you’re not using the native iOS Mail app, you’re out of luck.
Record your app activity
Finally, iOS 15 introduces the ability to see what services and websites apps are using on your phone via its Record App Activity function. The feature, which is off by default, will provide you with a list of the last seven days of app activity on your phone, letting you know if your apps have accessed your camera or photo library microphone, and what websites they’re sending data to.
It’s an impressive and worthwhile security and privacy feature, considering the amount of information apps can collect from your smartphone’s sensors. Don’t like what’s being collected? You can turn off access to those same sensors and prevent apps from tracking you in the Privacy menu under settings.
To turn on Record App Activity, open the Settings app, select Privacy, and scroll down to Record App Activity. Turn the feature on, and seven days later you’ll receive your first report.
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