iOS 16’s flashiest new feature might be the new lock screen, but tucked away inside the update are a handful of privacy and security enhancements that can help bring peace of mind, including tools to prevent spyware, replace passwords, and help protect against domestic abuse. Here’s what you need to know about the new features.
Safety Check centralizes privacy and security controls
Apple is introducing a new tool called Safety Check designed for people who are experiencing or at risk of domestic abuse, but it’s also useful for anyone who has ever shared their location or data with partners in the past. The tool is a centralized dashboard of controls meant to simplify resetting privacy permissions, revoking location access, and auditing data sharing.
Monitoring smartphones is a common tactic in domestic-abuse situations because it takes advantage of everyday tools, such as iCloud or location sharing, to grant someone access to nearly everything on a smartphone. This data sharing is something that may have been set up far in the past, so it’s easy to forget about. Before taking any steps that may cut off an abuser’s access to a device, note that they will likely be alerted if you do so. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has experts who can walk you through ways to protect yourself and provide emotional support beforehand.
To launch Safety Check, open Settings > Privacy and Security > Safety Check. At any point in this menu, you can tap the Quick Exit button to back out to your phone’s home screen.
On the first menu you’re greeted with two options: Emergency Reset or Manage Sharing & Access. As the name suggests, an emergency reset immediately stops any location sharing, resets all privacy permissions, and removes all devices from your account except the one you’re currently using, after which it gives you the option to change your password, review security settings, and remove emergency contacts. By resetting the Apple ID password, it cuts off any stalkerware that uses iCloud credentials to spy on a device to access text messages, location, or web searches.
If you prefer a piecemeal approach, or if you just want to get a better idea of everything you’re sharing from your device, the Manage Sharing & Access option is a better place to start. This choice offers a useful three-step process for anyone to review their privacy settings, starting with reviewing who you’ve shared data with, moving on to app settings, and finally performing an audit of the devices attached to your account.
It will take some time to see how effective Safety Check is in critical situations, but at the very least, it’s a useful tool for getting an overview of everything you’re sharing from your device, and it’s a tool that every iPhone owner should run at least once.
Less-annoying security updates
iOS is now able to quickly install security updates without pushing a full update every time. Tucked away and automatically enabled under Settings > General > Software Updates > Automatic Updates, the feature allows Apple to push critical security updates much more quickly—and potentially with less annoyance to you—than it could previously.
Passkeys kickstart the passwordless future
Earlier this year, the FIDO Alliance announced that Apple, Google, and Microsoft were all working on Passkeys, a new standard that allows for password-free logins across platforms, turning your device into a security key of sorts. Instead of logging in to an account with a username and password—both details that can be leaked, lost, or stolen—you’ll authenticate with the device itself, no password required. iOS 16 is the first platform to release this feature into the world, but while it’s an idea we’re excited about, currently few sites support it.
Copy-and-paste permissions give you control over your clipboard
Starting with iOS 14, you would get a notification whenever an app grabbed information from the clipboard, but you couldn’t do anything about it. Now, in iOS 16, whenever an app accesses the clipboard, you’ll see a pop-up asking you to allow or deny access. Unlike other permissions, which you enable or disable in the Settings app, you can’t grant clipboard access for an eternity—you’ll have to approve or deny every single time.
Lockdown Mode attempts to secure high-risk users
Lockdown Mode is a new feature that secures your phone as a defense against nation-state spyware. This level of protection is not something that most people need, but it’s good to get an understanding of how this feature works anyway.
When you enable Lockdown Mode, it switches off several features commonly abused by spyware, including limiting who can contact you, blocking email attachments, disabling link previews in messages, disabling certain web features like fonts and just-in-time compilers (things that website makers use to make the web work efficiently but have been known to be exploited as attack vectors), disabling shared photos, and more.
Again, most people will never need to use this feature, but you can give it a try yourself without breaking anything on your phone permanently. Open Settings > Privacy & Security > Lockdown Mode and then tap Turn on Lockdown Mode. You’ll need to restart your device for it to take effect. Follow the same directions to disable this mode.
iOS 16 is available now, but if your iPhone hasn’t updated yet, head to Settings > General > Software Update to get it. While you’re there, now is a good time to review all the other, older privacy settings on your phone.
This article was edited by Jason Chen.