iOS 8 wants: Privacy Sheets to make permissions manageable

Back in February 2012 I wrote about, in part, the need for more granular privacy controls for the iPhone and iPad. Later that year we got them in the form of iOS 6 Privacy Settings. Apps had to ask you for permission to use each and every one of them, but they'd ask one after the other. "[App] would like to use your current location", tap, "[App] would like to access your Twitter account", tap, "[App] would like to send you push notifications", tap, "[App] would like to—" You know the modal pain to which I'm referring. That's why I also wrote about the need for a saner, simpler management system — a Privacy Sheet. And that's why, on the eve of iOS 8, I'm writing about it again.

Here's the problem, as previously described:

Just like with Push Notifications back before iOS 5, however, their popup requester system doesn't scale. Right now, if you launch a new Twitter app for the first time and you get popup after popup, asking you to tap to approve Twitter account access, location, and Push Notification. Imagine when Contact access, Calendar access, and conceivably other information is added to the list. As the number of popups grow, the likelihood that a user will read and consider each one falls precipitously. They'll just start tapping through to get to their app.There's a school of thought that says inattentive users deserve what they get — if they don't read, they abdicate their right to complain later. Apple doesn't usually subscribe to that school of thought, however. That's probably why they've kept permission requesters to a minimum for now.for iOS 6, Apple could do what they did with Notification Center in iOS 5, remove the cumbersome nature of popups, simplify Android's implementation, and, when an app launches, present a simple sheet of toggles allowing a user to pick and choose which ones they're willing to grant access to.

So now, heading into iOS 8, we're still here:

A single Privacy Sheet feels like it would be a better, stronger user experience. Sheets are a terrific part of iOS. Instead of sending you zooming to other apps, they bring bits of other apps to you. Mail sheets, App Store sheets, and other on-demand interface elements make the iPhone and iPad feel perceptively faster because they bring the functionality to you instead of sending you to the functionality. They're the beginnings of push interface.

The same could be done for privacy and permissions. Whenever a newly installed (or re-installed) app is launched for the first time, a Privacy Sheet could automatically come up before anything else is allowed to happen. Here's a quick and dirty mockup of what it could look like (with apologies to Apple's HI team for the hack job):

The functionality would remain the same but the experience would become less percussive than it is now with the sequential modal popups. A unified Privacy Sheet would maintain the better, more granular permissions Apple has already enabled and but make them more manageable as well.

Moreover, an app could (and should) provide a way to access that Privacy Sheet from within its settings as well, so people can more easily find and change them whenever the mood strikes them, without having to go to Settings and hunt through the access controls one by one.

It might seem like a little thing but privacy is important. Permissions need to be presented in a way that's both impossible to miss but easy to manage. They need to empower people to make better more informed choice and enable them to change those choices whenever circumstances change or situations dictate.

I'd love to see Privacy Sheets in iOS 8 or a future version of iOS. How about you?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • +1 I'm with you Rene, this should be implemented if not iOS 8 then maybe 8.1.
  • Don't you mean 8.1 update 1? IT'S NOT 8.1.1 (talking windows... Sorry...)
  • Great idea! Sent from the iMore App
  • 100% agreed. I'd also like to see a privacy option for the camera added (not just the Camera Roll, but permission to actually use the camera itself the way iOS asks permission to use the microphone).
  • Sounds a lot cleaner and simpler to me. I'm all in. Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't actually care about this as much as I care about it actually allowing or denying access according to my wishes. Nearly every app asks me the first time if I want to receive push notifications. 90% of the time I tap "no." Nevertheless, 100% of the time it still allows the apps to send me push notifications until I go into the settings and directly remove those permissions. This lack of functionality has led me to wonder how many apps that I have denied access to my contacts, for example, still have access to my contacts. I always have to go and check all the permissions in the settings after installing a new app to make sure it didn't still get permission to do whatever it wants regardless of what answer I gave it.
  • Nice idea, this whole area still confuses some of our customers.
  • Yes! And take out that annoying "Location Accuracy" WiFi notice EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I open maps or anything else requiring location info. I've had iOS 7 for over 6 months. I'm aware and still don't give a damn, lol!
  • I second that!
    Same for cellular data. I F'n know that I disabled cellular data for podcasts so I don't get hit with 2gb of video a day when I just want to listen to the iMore show in my car!
  • This is one of the things I have missed from my Blackberry days. You install an app, then go to a permissions page where you decide what the app can and can't access or do, before anything else occurs. Should you wish to change something, it was a simple as going to Settings and changing the permissions for that app. Sent from the iMore App
  • Great idea. Also when you say "Moreover, an app could (and should) provide a way to access that Privacy Sheet from within its settings as well, so people can more easily find and change them whenever the mood strikes them, without having to go to Settings and hunt through the access controls one by one." are you referring to all Settings or just Privacy settings? If just Privacy settings, I would like to see all Settings for a one stop process.
  • How about some investigative reporting on why such an elegant, logical solution as the one you propose does not make it into a release? Surely Apple devs and QA could see the potential PITA of all the pop up notices when they started coding/testing. With Apple's mountain of cash they could have tossed a few more people onto some of these projects to get a more refined product. Why do they not do that? Why are Mail, iTunes, Pages, etc not better products? Where Microsoft will vomit functionality all over the UI, Apple seems more the latex and high heels stingy sadist that teases a heavy panting out of you and then beats you with cold, wet celery. I would love to see less focus on Saint Jonny Ive design and more focus on functionality, or at least a better balance.
  • Might as well put EVERY option for the app in one location, like cellular use for that app, and all of the options for the app itself- account info etc.
    Why do I have to go 5 different places to change the prefs for one app? I'm not saying they should get rid of the giant aggregated menu titled "USE CELLULAR DATA FOR:" there can be two. Same for the privacy menu, give us both options. (Something apple is famous for NOT doing) And make this settings menu accessible from the app itself, while in an app I pull up Control Center, just have a little gear button, popup a COMPLETE list of every little option possible for this app.
  • I agree with you here. Granted, I try to set my apps up from the get go but every now I have to change something and man it takes time to figure out where I need to go to fix something.
  • This looks very Androidy. I doubt Apple will try to confuse people with more information than what is needed. There might be a better implementation for the same but this looks more geeky for average users.
  • How so? You simply scroll on the sheet and toggle off what you don't want. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • I'd like for them to make Location Services an easier to access function. I do not keep my location on all the time, only when I'm using GPS--as I'm sure many people do as well. But, when I want to use GPS, god forbid I'm already on the road, it's a good 10-12 seconds to get to finally swiping location on. There's no reason Privacy shouldn't be higher up in options, and honestly, there's no reason it can't be in the swipe-up menu... Matter of fact, you should be able to customize the buttons in there. I never use stop watch, so I could really really really use that slot for location... Just a suggestion.