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Digital Addiction And A Data Tracking Crackdown: The Apple Updates

Apple still wants you to use your devices, but soon your iPhone won't "beg" for your attention.

What you need to know
  • Apple held its annual Worldwide Developer Conference overnight
  • Among the updates, iOS 12 will include features to help users monitor and regulate their use of devices
  • The company is also cracking down on data tracking by companies including Facebook and Google

CEO Tim Cook has revealed the new software updates set to hit Apple devices this year will make your gadgets faster, more personal and -- in a rather paradoxical twist -- less addictive.

At the company's annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Jose, California, Cook took to the stage to detail the features of iOS 12, the latest version of the company's operating software for iPhone and iPads.

But alongside the raft of fun and digitally exciting additions, from animated personalized emojis to augmented reality tools, iOS 12 is set to include new features designed to remind you to get off your phone, and make it easier to stay off.

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) at the San Jose Convention Centerin San Jose, California. Image: Getty
Screen Time

If you weren't already aware of just how much time you spend scrolling, you're about to be hit with a real awakening.

In an attempt to make your relationship with your phone happier and healthier, the new Screen Time feature will monitor how users are interacting with their apps and provides detailed daily and weekly summaries of that usage.

By assembling the information into graphs and charts, users will be able to see how much time they spend on certain apps, which numbers seem a little too high, and even how often they pick up their phone.

If the information proves for unsettling reading, users will then be able to set limitations on their usage, such as putting a time limit before their phone kicks them off Instagram.

“In iOS 12, we're offering our users detailed information and tools to help them better understand and control the time they spend with apps and websites, how often they pick up their iPhone or iPad during the day and how they receive notifications,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering.

"With Screen Time, these new tools are empowering users who want help managing their device time, and balancing the many things that are important to them.”

These activity reports will also be available in a family configuration, allowing parents to enforce periods of digital downtime on their kids by limiting the time allowed on certain apps or banning them from using apps entirely.

Parents will be able to access their child's activity report from their own iOS device to better understand on which apps their child spends the most time.

'App Limits' will allow users to set restrictions on the time they spend using certain apps. Image: Getty
Do Not Disturb And Notifications

Enhancements to the already existing Do Not Disturb feature will also change the way people disconnect from their phones during times like studying, while at work or when it's time to sleep.

People will be able to turn off all notifications until they leave somewhere, while Bedtime Mode will dim a phone's display and hide all notifications until prompted in the morning.

To help reduce interruptions, users will be able to control how notifications themselves are delivered. For the first time alerts will be grouped, making large numbers of notifications from the same app easier to view or dismiss.

Siri will also be able to advise you about apps that keep trying to get your attention, but which you don't want to use, then allowing you the option to banish its notifications.

The upgrades come a month after Google announced plans to have Android phones go into "shush" mode when placed face down on a table as well as only display grey-scale colours late at night.

Digital Addiction

Apple and its Silicon Valley colleagues have come under fire recently following complaints that their devices and software are designed to be used compulsively.

In January, two major Apple investors urged the tech giant to curb smartphone addiction among children.

In an open letter, New York-based Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers' Retirement System said Apple must offer tools to help battle addiction to its devices.

"Apple can play a defining role in signalling to the industry that paying special attention to the health and development of the next generation is both good business and the right thing to do," the letter said.

It appears these new updates are Apple's response to these demands.

Privacy

Apple also dealt a blow against websites, including Facebook and Google, that track users across the web.

The most notable privacy-focused improvement to be made to iOS devices is that the notorious 'like' and 'share' buttons, that serve as a tool for websites like Facebook and Google to track user usage, will be largely blocked.

The company says it will be shutting down that tracking through its Safari browser, and even if users click to share an item they will get a prompt with an option to prevent subsequent tracking.

"We’ve all seen these ‘like’ buttons and share buttons and these comment fields,” Federighi said.

 “It turns out these can be used to track you whether you click on them or not. This year, we are shutting that down.”

To demo the new feature, Federighi showed how Safari displayed a pop up notice asking whether a user would like to allow Facebook to have access to cookie and website data before they were allowed to comment on a website.

Previously, users had to opt-out if they did not want to be tracked like this.

"There can be a lot of sensitive data on your devices, and we think you should be in control of who sees it," Federighi said.

"We believe your private data should remain private."

Federighi also said Apple would put an end to "fingerprinting", the process through which data companies identify specific devices visiting a website by creating a unique fingerprint based on its particular configuration settings, installed fonts and plug-ins.

iOS12 is set to send out generic data to such collectors, making it "dramatically more difficult for data companies to identify and track you."

The changes come in the wake of Facebook's Cambridge Analytica data scandal, which saw the data of 87 million users exposed and potentially used to benefit the Trump election campaign in 2016, and are a response by Apple to the increasing concerns about online privacy.