Apple announces new privacy and security features at WWDC

Apple reveals new privacy and security updates at WWDC that make it harder for hackers to spy on users

  • Greater protections for children sharing photos on Apple and third-party apps 
  • ‘Lockdown Mode’ updates offer new protections for high-value ‘spyware’ targets
  • READ MORE: Apple unveils $3,500 augmented reality headset at WWDC

Apple announced dramatic new privacy and security protections at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference.

The latest updates include Apple’s changes to its native browser, Safari, and its own communication tools, as well as to its privacy and security expectations from third-party app developers.   

The company hopes to make it easier for Apple users to surf the web without being tracked and to protect children communicating online via Apple products, among other upgrades. 

Brand new features were also promised, including Live Voicemail, which will give iPhone owners a live transcript of voicemails — as they come in — so that users can decide privately if they want to answer the call.

Apple’s announcement said the new features represent the company’s ‘deeply held belief’ that ‘privacy is a fundamental human right.’

Apple CEO Tim Cook at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference 2023, the annual event occasioning this week’s announcement about the firm’s new security and privacy updates

Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, said at the event that of the updates, ‘ Privacy is designed into every new Apple product and feature from the beginning.’ 

‘We are focused on keeping our users in the driver’s seat when it comes to their data,’ Federighi said, ‘by continuing to provide industry-leading privacy features and the best data security in the world.’ 

Federighi touted major updates to Safari’s Private Browsing options and an expansion of Lockdown Mode, as specific examples. 

Launched last July, ‘Lockdown Mode’ is a feature unique to Apple products that dramatically reduces the potential for hacking by rendering certain features and apps inoperable.

Here’s what Apple users can expect when the major update appears this fall.  

Safari Private Browsing 

Apple boasts of its track record as an industry leader in ‘private mode’ web browsing options and hopes to maintain that edge.

Amid the WWDC 2023 this week, the company announced further protections against both automated web trackers and more human threats from people who might access an Apple user’s device. 

‘Advanced tracking and fingerprinting protections,’ the company says, will prevent websites from using the latest techniques to ID a user’s device and follow their browsing habits. 

One feature in this vein, ‘Link Tracking Protection,’ will automatically locate and remove additional code embedded into webpage URL links, which sites have used to track internet users across websites, email clients and app services. (Link Tracking Protection will also apply to Apple Mail and other applications beyond Safari.)

Soon, the company says, Safari Private Browsing will have a new feature that locks browser windows when not in use, helping customers keep their tabs open and safe, even when stepping away from their screen. 

Safari Private Browsing will soon have a feature that locks browser windows when not in use, helping customers keep their tabs open and safe, even when stepping away from their screen

Communication Safety 

Apple’s child protection features, ‘Communication Safety,’ which previously included software designed to warn children when their device might be sending or receiving photos in messages that contain nudity has been upgraded to identify video too.

The feature will now also apply more widely across Apple’s operating systems, keeping children safe as they use AirDrop, FaceTime video messages and when using the Photos picker to decide which of their own content to send.

To further guarantee privacy and protection, this entire safety feature is automated and processed on the personal device itself, meaning that Apple or a third-party app ever accesses no personal data.  

Parents will have the final say on which devices and accounts in their Family Sharing plan will have Communication Safety turned on.

And the company is offering new API to app developers that will help them integrate their own app’s features with Communication Safety seamlessly.

Apple will soon offer the option for ‘ Sensitive Content Warnings’ across iMessage, AirDrop, FaceTime and elsewhere so Apple users can avoid seeing ‘unwanted nude images and videos’ 

Kids aside, Apple also says that it will soon offer the option for ‘Sensitive Content Warnings’ across iMessage, AirDrop, FaceTime and elsewhere for adult users as well, so that all of Apple’s customers can avoid seeing ‘unwanted nude images and videos.’

Live Voicemail

Apple wants to make it easier for iPhone owners to know when answering a call is okay.  

Their answer is Live Voicemail, an upcoming feature that will provide a live transcript of an incoming voicemail. 

It is generated securely on the iPhone using Apple’s Neural Engine: a network of processors developed for machine learning tasks.

iPhone owners will be able to read a voicemail message as it comes in and make their own informed decision on whether or not they should pick it up. 

Unknown callers will go straight to Live Voicemail without ringing if the user turns on the Silence Unknown Callers setting. Apple’s press release said that calls identified by carriers as spam won’t appear in Live Voicemail at all but will instead get hung up on instantly.  

Lockdown Mode

The relatively new ‘Lockdown Mode’ feature was designed for Apple users whose privacy needs — by dint of their celebrity, employment, activism or other characteristics — were notably more extreme. 

The updates to Lockdown Mode keep that spirit, providing even more protections for individuals who, in the company’s words, ‘may be targeted by mercenary spyware because of who they are or what they do.’ 

New protections coming to Lockdown Mode include the ability to set more strict wireless connectivity defaults, expanded safeguards around media handling and sharing, and the ability to test run certain suspicious programs (‘sandboxing’).

Among this and more improvements, Lockdown Mode will be coming soon to Apple Watch’s watchOS.

App Privacy Improvements

Not satisfied with making its own hardware and software safe, Apple said it will be issuing out new tools to app developers and more detailed information on the data practices of third-party software development kits (SDKs) used for their platforms.

According to Apple, this information will help third-party developers provide consumers with more accurate ‘Privacy Nutrition Labels’ before they choose to buy and download their software products. 

‘These changes also improve the integrity of the software supply chain by supporting signatures for third-party SDKs,’ Apple noted in its announcement, ‘to add another layer of protection against abuse.’

Apple reminded its customers that all of these new privacy and security upgrades will be ‘free software updates’ when they arrive this fall.

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