Apple details new privacy features for Mail, Siri and more at WWDC 2021

At WWDC 2021, Apple spent some time digging into new privacy features across its devices.

Apple started with its Mail app and ‘invisible pixels,’ a long-running email practice that hides invisible one-pixel by one-pixel images to track details about when people open their emails. Invisible pictures gather information by forcing devices to download the invisible pixel when it opens an email. When a device downloads an image, the server can gather data like the device’s IP address when it connects to the server to download the image.

Mail will soon offer the ability to block the information tracked by these pixels. It’s worth noting that many third-party email apps block invisible pixels. While it’s nice to see Apple bring this privacy feature into its built-in Mail app, the company has previously been accused of copying features from third-party email apps and putting them in Mail.

Moreover, Apple announced it will launch ‘App Privacy Review,’ a way to track what information apps gather about you. Further, the Privacy Review can detail where apps send that information.

Apple also talked about privacy with Siri and announced on-device audio processing, which allows Siri to process requests without sending audio recordings off-device. As an added benefit, Siri can now respond to many requests without an internet connection and can respond to requests much faster.

Apple announced a new account recovery feature for Apple ID to make it faster and easier to recover your account if you forget your password. Additionally, users will be able to add ‘legacy contacts’ to their Apple ID to pass on their account if they pass away.

Further, Apple announced iCloud+, a group of features bundled into iCloud subscriptions designed to improve privacy. And, the company won’t increase the price of iCloud.

Private Relay is a new privacy feature that works when browsing in Safari. It encrypts all traffic coming off your device and sends it through two private relays, the first anonymizes the IP address while the second decrypts the web address and sends the request through. The multi-step process effectively separates user information, which protects privacy by preventing a single entity — including Apple — from detecting which user visits which website. Private Relay sounds a lot like a VPN from Apple, although it appears to work only for Safari and not for all device traffic.

Hide My Email lets users create alternate email addresses to give to websites so they don’t need to expose their actual email. These alternate emails can forward to users’ personal inboxes, adding a degree of separation between a users’ actual email address and, for example, the junk email they hand out to every website.

There’s also HomeKit Secure video, which lets people store video from their security camera in iCloud without counting it against their storage cap.

Image credit: Apple