Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference has officially kicked off, and with it a number of new privacy announcements further emphasizing the company’s commitment to keeping its customers’ data safe while foiling less-than-trustworthy data brokers.

While there wasn’t a single hardware announcement, as was hoped and predicted, the software announcements that Apple made at WWDC 2021 were extensive and are likely to be well-received by iPhone, iPad and Mac users, and privacy stands out as a central theme.

Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi said this during the keynote about the company’s position on privacy: “We believe privacy is a fundamental human right … you shouldn’t have to make a trade-off between great features and privacy—we believe you deserve both.”

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As for specific announcements regarding privacy in Apple’s ecosystem, new features are coming to the Mail app, Siri, app tracking and a new iCloud+ plan of which a VPN-like privacy feature is only one part.

New privacy features in the Mail app, Settings app and Siri

In the Mail app, Apple is taking action against tracking pixels. As small as a single 1×1 pixel of white space hidden in the footer of an email, tracking pixels can deliver IP addresses, email opening date and time, physical location and other personally identifying information. To combat this widely used tactic, Apple’s Mail app is getting a feature called Mail Privacy Protection that allows users to choose to hide IP addresses, mask physical locations and block read receipts.

The Settings app is getting a new App Privacy Report, which looks and feels similar to the existing Battery Usage report that shows which apps are draining the battery on an iOS device. The App Privacy Report provides information on how often apps have used the permissions users grant them over the past week, such as accessing the camera, Photos or microphone, as well as showing which third-party domains the data is being shared with. The list of third-party domains may be particularly useful for those concerned about privacy, as further research can reveal which organizations are tied to those domains and how they may use personally identifiable information.

A new Siri feature is not only fantastic for privacy but for usability as well: on-device speech recognition. Voice recordings will never get sent to Apple or broadcast over the web, and many of Siri’s features will be usable without an internet connection. Starting timers, adding a calendar event, launching apps and other features can be done without having to transmit data to Apple. These changes also mean that Siri’s response time should be greatly reduced, Apple said.

New privacy features in iCloud

Apple’s iCloud is getting a total revamp of its subscription service, but iCloud subscribers don’t need to worry: iCloud+, the new moniker for premium iCloud plans, won’t include any pricing changes.

The biggest new privacy-related feature included in iCloud+ is the VPN-like Private Relay, which is available to iCloud+ customers using Safari. Private Relay encrypts all data being sent through Safari and bounces it through two relays, which further anonymize the traffic to counter tracking cookies and other privacy-infringing trackers commonly used by websites. No one, including Apple, will be able to tell who you are or what websites you’re visiting, Apple said during the keynote.

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iCloud+ users are also getting a new Hide My Email feature that will let them generate random email addresses that forward to another address for use when filling out online forms. The addresses are unique and can be deleted at any time.

New security camera features for iCloud+ will allow subscribers to connect an unlimited number of cameras and store feed recordings in iCloud without recordings counting against storage capacity.

iCloud is getting several new features for non-paid users as well. A new recovery contact list allows iCloud users to select friends to add to a list of people who can be sent one-time codes in case a user is locked out of their account (this doesn’t give them any direct access), and a new Digital Legacy program will allow users to specify people to give access to an iCloud account in the event of the user’s death.

Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, discussing privacy at WWDC 2021
Screenshot image: Brandon Vigliarolo/TechRepublic