Does Apple keep your data as private as it says? A new study suggests it might not

iPhone privacy settings screen
(Image credit: Future)

Privacy – it's one of the iPhone's top features, right? Never mind the iPhone, it's one of Apple's core principles. But it looks like privacy might not be as easy as you thought.

A study by Amel Bourdoucen and Janne Lindqvist of Aalto University has found that Apple's privacy settings are a lot more complicated than you'd think. Titled "An Inconvenient Truth: The Serpentine Dance of Apple's Privacy Settings," the study dives into the murky waters of how Apple's first-party apps, like Safari and Siri, are a bit too nosy for comfort and how navigating their privacy settings might require a PhD in Advanced Appleology.

It's still worth tipping your hat to Apple for its vault-like ecosystem that's tighter than Fort Knox. It does still offer privacy features on the best iPhones that are unrivalled, such as limiting ad tracking. But Bourdoucen and Lindqvist aren't convinced things are as private as they appear at first glance.

Privacy is complicated

In the study, the duo found that trying to disable default apps is akin to playing whack-a-mole with your privacy settings. You can switch off settings for certain apps, but you might find the settings don't match your preferences later on. It's unclear whether this is due to changes in Apple's settings, or the preferences simply being changed back. The study also criticises some of the default settings.

And let's talk about Siri, shall we? Opting out of Siri during setup is about as effective as a chocolate teapot. It turns out, Siri is still eavesdropping on your app activities to make "suggestions." To give Siri the boot for good, you'd need to navigate the Apple's maze of privacy settings scattered across five different submenus.

During a survey with a cozy group of 15 Apple users, revelations about the extent of data tracking left them gobsmacked. Imagine searching for something "sensitive" on Safari only to realize it's got more tabs on you than the MI5. The "Family Sharing" feature also stirred the pot, with some users finding it as unsettling as discovering your in-laws have a key to your house. What's more, mone of the surveyed could work out how to disable default apps through the settings menu. When in doubt, they turned to Google for help.

The researchers threw Apple a bone with some suggestions, like making settings more accessible for users when they just want to stop sharing their location. A central hub for privacy settings could prevent users from getting frustrated with the process, and actually explaining what each setting does would be even more helpful.

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Connor Jewiss

Connor is a technology writer and editor, with a byline on multiple platforms. He has been writing for around seven years now across the web and in print too. Connor has experience on most major platforms, though does hold a place in his heart for macOS, iOS/iPadOS, electric vehicles, and smartphone tech.