online privacy

How to Use Apple's New iOS to Protect Your Privacy

NBC 7 Responds looked at how you can protect your personal information from apps that want to track you.

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Our information is very valuable. Many apps on your phone might need your location to work, but some are collecting a lot more information than they actually needed.

"That information was being packaged in many cases and sold to third parties," said James Lee of the Identity Theft Resource Center.

Lee said that information was used by advertisers to target you with relevant products. With Apple's new iOS 14.5, you have some more control over which apps collect your personal information.

"Apple has given you the ability to say, 'Do not track me, do not collect that data and do not sell it to anybody else,' " Lee said. "They have it installed in the phones so it's built-in, your ability to stop people from tracking what apps you use."

When you open an app for the first time on the new iOS, you might see a pop-up notification asking if it can collect your data. If you don't see the pop-up, the app is not worried about collecting your information.

"There will be a prompt in your apps asking, 'Do you want to allow this app to track you?' " said Thomas Germain, a tech editor at Consumer Reports. "If you say no, you're clear. That's all you need to do."

Privacy options like this are not new, but this is the first time they've been so accessible.

"There were settings like this in the past on iPhones and other devices, but you had to go seek them out," Germain said. "Apple is taking a really proactive step by making you opt-in as opposed to opt-out."

Germain said that Android phones do not have this exact same option, but you can control apps from collecting certain types of information in your privacy settings on those devices. This change by Apple is one of the biggest privacy shifts recently.

"Our model has always been a no option," Lee said. "If you use my product, I'm going to collect your data and that's it."

What happens if you opt out? Germain said you might see fewer relevant ads because you have a unique number used to identify your product preferences.

"This prevents apps from collecting the unique ID number associated with your Apple account and other companies for targeted ads," Germain said. "This is going to disrupt a huge swath of the tech industry, and it could be an earthquake that changes how a big part of the Internet works."

Lee said that up to 80% of iPhone users might opt out of tracking. That could hurt companies like Facebook (which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp) and Google, as well as other companies that make money selling ads.

"It sets up technical barriers and new policy changes that will prevent apps from collecting or sharing data for the purpose of targeted ads," Germain said.

Lee said he expects privacy protections like this will continue to be rolled out as consumers look to protect their personal information.

"They'll say, 'I don't want you to track me,' " said Lee. " 'I don't want you to collect my information, and I don't want you to sell it to somebody else.' "

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