Apple once again took aim at the vast digital-advertising industry on Monday and unveiled a number of changes to protect iPhones users’ privacy and strengthen its position as a gatekeeper between consumers and the rest of the digital industry.
Apple said that new iPhone software scheduled for this fall, called iOS 15, would add a so-called app privacy report that tells people what data apps are collecting about them. The report will display when an app has gained access to sensitive parts of the device, such as the photo album, contacts list or microphone. Google announced a similar feature for Android devices last month.
Apple also said its Mail app would now better protect the identities of users from people who send them emails and would block the ability of marketers to track whether a person opens an email.
Apple also showed off a new service that hides users’ internet traffic from internet providers, much like the virtual private network, or V.P.N., services sold by a number of other companies.
The technology routes a user’s internet traffic through computer servers designed to conceal the user’s identity and location. Such technology has been used to get around government firewalls that censor the internet, such as in China, and it’s unclear how Apple’s service would work there. The service would be available to people who pay extra for Apple’s iCloud data storage.
Apple’s privacy push has put the company at odds with some big rivals, most notably Facebook, that rely on collecting data about people to better target ads. Despite protests from some corners of Silicon Valley, Monday’s announcements show that Apple has doubled down on privacy features.
Yet the company’s public branding on privacy is also undermined by its business in China, where it is putting its Chinese customers’ data at risk and aiding the government’s censorship operation to placate authorities there, The New York Times reported last month.
On Monday, Apple also announced new features designed to make the iPhone the only item someone needs to carry with them when leaving home. Apple has already allowed people to pay for items in stores and get through subway turnstiles with iPhones. Now it is trying to move government identification cards onto the devices. Apple said people could soon scan their driver’s licenses to use digital versions of the IDs, which will be accepted in some participating states and airport security checkpoints in the United States.
Apple is also trying to replace physical keys. The company said it was making it easier to use digital keys to unlock doors at homes, offices and hotels. Hyatt Hotels plans to use the technology at more than 1,000 properties beginning in the fall, Apple said.
Apple is also greatly expanding FaceTime, its videoconferencing service. For more than a decade, FaceTime was an app exclusive to Apple users. But it soon will be opened to web browsers, which will also allow non-Apple devices like Android phones to participate in FaceTime calls.
Apple is adding a host of features that FaceTime callers can use together in a group session. A group on a video call will be able to listen to music or stream movies together. They can also use some apps together — like a delivery app to take turns adding food to an order before meeting up.
The new mobile operating system will also add a text-recognition ability to the iPhone camera, allowing a photo of handwritten text to be automatically transcribed into typed text or a photo of a billboard with a phone number to enable you to dial that phone number.