Your guide to managing iPhone app permissions

Your guide to managing iPhone app permissions

Published: Aug 26, 2021

So you want to get serious about privacy, especially in the wake of the recent spate of high-profile cases about webcam hacks, privacy policy changes, social media impersonation scams and more.

But where do we even begin tackling this complex, multi-platform, multi-factor issue? Let’s start small with app permissions.

What are app permissions?

But first, what are app permissions? Simply put, an app permission grants apps access to your phone’s system and your information.

For example, if you grant an app permission to access your contacts, they will be able to read (i.e. view) your contacts, edit your contact list (i.e. add or delete contacts), and even communicate with people on your contact list.

Now, let’s dive right into the wild world of app permissions and the steps you can take to better manage them in iOS.

General tips for permissions

Generally, the access requested should make sense. For example, you wouldn’t want to grant location access to a simple flashlight app, but it makes sense to grant it to a map app. (Speaking of flashlight apps, you probably don’t need one—your iPhone has a built-in flashlight function in the Control Centre.)

Unsure about an app and why it’s asking for a specific type of permission? Deny it access and check if the app becomes less functional.

If you can use that app as usual, then that permission was likely not critical. Do research on the app to make sure it’s not malicious.

Quick steps you can take

Follow these simple steps to start managing your app permissions.

Step 1: Remove or offload your unused apps

  • With the offloading feature, iOS automatically removes unused apps from your iPhone while keeping app data and documents.

  • Go to the Settings > iTunes & App Store. Scroll down to Offload Unused Apps and toggle it on.

  • You can also manually remove unused or rarely used apps: go to Settings > General > iPhone Storage and tap on the apps you wish to remove, then tap Delete.

  • Besides clearing up space on your device, removing old apps regularly also helps make your phone more secure.

Step 2: Look through your app permissions

  • Review your apps and the permissions access you’ve granted them, and revoke them if you think something doesn’t seem quite right.

  • Go to Settings > Privacy, and tap into the permission categories to view the apps that have access to them.

  • Some apps might stop functioning properly if denied critical permission access, but you can always return and re-enable access.

Permissions and access granted

To access the list of permissions in iOS, go to Settings > Privacy.

  • Location Services: Allows apps to use information from networks and Bluetooth to determine your approximate location.

  • Contacts: Gives apps permission to read, create, and modify your contacts entries. Apps could also possibly send messages to or call the people on your contacts list.

  • Calendars: Apps can read, create, edit, or delete calendar events.

  • Reminders: Apps can read, create, edit, or delete reminders.

  • Photos: Gives apps total or partial access to your photo library. Choose from three options, “Select Photos…”, “Allow Access to All ‌Photos”‌, or “Don’t Allow”.

  • Bluetooth: Allows apps to access your Bluetooth for functions other than playing audio, for example, to discover nearby devices.

  • Microphone: Allows apps to turn on your microphone and record audio. An orange indicator appears at the top of the screen whenever an app uses the microphone (without the camera). A message will also appear at the top of the Control Centre to inform you when an app has recently used the microphone.

  • Speech Recognition: Allows apps to capture audio of your voice and send the data to Apple’s servers for processing. This is sensitive data and you should make sure only to grant permission to apps you absolutely trust.

  • Camera: Allows apps to turn on your camera to take photos or record videos. Whenever an app uses the camera (including when the camera and microphone are used together), a green indicator appears. A message will also appear at the top of the Control Centre to inform you when an app has recently used the camera.

  • Health: Gives apps access to the Health app, either reading (i.e. pulling) data from the Health app to the third-party app, or creating or pushing new data to the Health app. Do be cautious when sharing health and medical data, and only grant permission with trusted apps.

  • HomeKit: Allows apps to access and control your smart home set-up under the HomeKit framework.

  • Media & Apple Music: Allows apps to access your media library for purposes like media playback or to add music to your edited videos.

  • Files and Folders: Apps can read, change, and delete your files and documents on your device.

  • Motion & Fitness: Grants access to fitness tracking data such as steps, altitude, and distance travelled.

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