Private Relay, Hide My Email, Blocking Email Pixels: Apple Privacy Strictness Goes Up A Notch

Apple WWDC 2021 keynote wasn’t all fun and games with then new iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey and more being given their first moments in the limelight. Privacy remains a focus area for Apple and the new updates announced at the keynote indicate that iOS 15 for the iPhone and indeed the next line of all software updates will dial up the data privacy strictness. And that even includes control over the hidden tracking pixels in emails that collect your IP addresses and location. Apple has announced a new Privacy Relay add-on for iCloud+ subscribers, a privacy dashboard and Hide My Email, among other things. But how exactly do these new privacy measures line up?

Let us start with App Privacy Report, a new dashboard to iOS 15 which will give you a simpler overview of what all data each of the apps installed on your iPhone, are collecting. And for what. This is a continuation for the App Tracking Privacy feature that was rolled out with iOS 14.5 earlier this year. the permissions you have given to apps, or the permissions that apps already have, will be listed here—location, contacts, photos, microphone and more. The real insight here is now you’ll know where your data is going, with the list of domains contacted directly by the app to send any data. “Users can also find out with whom their data may be shared by seeing all the third-party domains an app is contacting,” says Apple. App Privacy Report will arrive with iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8 later this year.

Apple has rebranded iCloud paid subscriptions to iCloud+, but it doesn’t remain just that. If you are an iCloud subscriber, irrespective of any subscription plan, you’ll get iCloud Private Relay, Hide My Email, and expanded HomeKit Secure Video support, bolted on now. Private Relay is quite interesting—and may be seen as a response to Google adding a VPN service to its Google One subscriptions, at least in the US for the time being. While Apple doesn’t classify it as such, Private Relay will reroute all your internet traffic to and from the device, via multiple relays, to protect it from snooping and hide any identifiers. And it does this twice. The first layer of encryption gives your internet traffic an anonymous IP address, which protects your location. Apple says that the assurance of the second hop that Private Relay does with your internet traffic while forwarding the traffic to the destination addresses, prevents any party from seeing the data contained there, and that includes Apple. This is expected to work with the Safari web browser.

You may often be landing up on websites asking you to sign up or sign in, before you can access features or even read a news article. That is a pretty elaborate data collection exercise. If that website has the Sign in with Apple option, you will be able to choose that and use something called Hide My Email. That allows users to share with the website, what are essentially random email addresses and not your actual email address. These randomized addresses forward mails sent there to your actual email address, and you have the option of deleting these random email addresses at any time. You get to control who can contact you on mail and also keep your primary email address free from spam.

And speaking of mail, you probably never realized this, but a lot of marketing and spam emails have something called tracking pixels. You don’t see these, but they are embedded in images in the mail body, which when you open the mail, will load too. That immediately tells the sender that the mail has been accessed, along with your IP address which in turn gives a fair idea of your location. Apple will be blocking this with the Mail app across iPhone, iPad and Mac. Ad trackers and email tracking pixels will not be able to load in the Apple Mail app, which will mean that the sender will be blocked from collection your location data. “The new feature helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email, and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location,” says Apple.

Last but not least is Siri. All voice-based requests made to Siri on an iPhone or iPad, for instance, will now be processed on the device itself. Apple believes that this can eliminate the privacy issues raised by the very fact that for processing requests on the cloud, audio recordings needed to be transmitted or stored. This also means that Siri will be able to process requests even without an active Wi-Fi or mobile data connection on the device at the time, such as launching apps, setting alarms or even controlling Apple Music, assuming the Music you are playing is downloaded to the device. “This addresses one of the biggest privacy concerns for voice assistants, which is unwanted audio recording,” says Apple.