Apple just released the new iOS 14.5 update for iPhones and iPadOS 14.5 for iPads. These huge updates bring fun new emoji and critical security patches. But, more importantly, they also introduce Apple’s game-changing, consumer-positive privacy and security features. 

Apple’s groundbreaking changes empower users rather than the ever-growing cadre of tech companies desperate to track and collect your personal data. Here’s how to make the most of them.

Easier iPhone unlocking while wearing a mask

Apple Watch’s mask-inclusive FaceID update is welcome news to Watch users who want to stay covid-safe. Once activated, you’ll be able to unlock your iPhone without pulling down your mask to expose your entire face. You’ll still have to enter your passcode for payment functions.

To turn it on, go to your iPhone’s Settings, select Face ID > Passcode, then look for a new “Unlock with Apple Watch” toggle button.

After that, your Apple Watch can authenticate your iPhone when Face ID detects a mask, your Watch is nearby and unlocked, and you’ve enabled the Watch’s passcode function. Still, it’s worth remembering that passcodes are still the most secure option. Face unlocks are more convenient but not as protected by law as a password or passcode.

AirTag compatibility

On Friday, April 30 Apple’s AirTags arrive; the tiny wafers can attach to items like your keys, cats, or wallet to provide a stylish (and convenient) way to find these essential but sometimes elusive items. 

The concept seems cool unless you’re a potential target of tracking by actual creeps. Fortunately Apple thought this through and baked in anti-stalking features: An item in iPhone’s Safety Alerts section tells you when someone puts an AirTag in your car, purse, or anywhere else. If your iPhone detects an unknown AirTag, your iPhone will tell you. If you don’t have an iPhone you’ll hear a chime. Read our detailed explainer about how this works and what to do if you find an unwanted AirTag.

App Transparency

Apple’s biggest change in its massive update is its new data privacy transparency policies and controls for apps. The new app requirements also have tracking-happy companies like Facebook on the defensive, because losing out on user tracking could have a profound effect on their business.

The new feature lets you stop apps from tracking what you do on other apps.  

When you open up an app, you’ll get a notification asking if you want to let that app spy on what you do on your phone, even when you’re in other apps. Before now, companies were already doing that without your knowledge or consent and it’s not just limited to your phone. It has been happening on all other devices and systems as well to create a holistic picture of you for ad targeting purposes.

You know how when you leave the Facebook app and go shop on Amazon, then when you go back to Facebook it shows you ads for what you browsed on Amazon? That’s what we’re talking about here. 

As explained in Financial Times:

Until now, apps have been able to collect, and share with third parties such as data brokers, all sorts of personal information about you, including your location, what other apps you are using, when you logged into the app, an encrypted version of your email address, your phone number, and a unique number that identifies your iPhone, known as IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers).

Facebook has characterized Apple’s transparency move as an attack on the free and open internet as well as being mean to small businesses

When you download a new app it’ll ask if you give permission for it to track you. Say no if you don’t want to be tracked. To turn it on for apps you already have installed, go into iPhone settings and tap Privacy > Tracking. You’ll see “Allow Apps to Request to Track.” This shows a list of apps that want to surveil you; toggle the slider from green to grey to stop them.

Hey Apple: Don’t stop there

We’re heaping praise on Apple’s strong stand for user privacy and security and we love that Apple calls privacy “a fundamental human right” and “one of our core values.” With iOS 14.5 Apple is definitely putting its money where its mouth is and it shows Apple is paying attention to how things have changed. At the same time it’s crucial to acknowledge how woefully behind the times Apple is in other ways: like its antiquated, moralistic stance on what kind of content users can choose to access (and Apple’s actions to police racy content on other businesses’ platforms).

Let’s hope other Big Tech corpos follow Apple’s lead with the changes and industry shockwaves coming from 14.5’s strong stand on privacy. And that the company, one of the world’s biggest influencers, continues its work on itself toward re-empowering the agency of users in more aspects to come.

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