What Are App Permissions on My iPhone?

The lowdown on iPhone app permissions and why you need to care about them.

Apps are awesome — and easy. Download a game, install a game, play a game. No muss, no fuss (and maybe a few in-app purchases). But for all their seeming simplicity, there’s a lot going on under the hood. Most of the time, we don’t bother with how apps do what they do. Occasionally, though, we’re forced to look beyond the color icons and investigate how they’re interacting with our devices.

The most common way we do that is through App Permissions. Apps will generally ask you a bunch of questions when you open them for the first time — Notifications or no? Location tracking or no? Install the widget or not? — and many times we’ll just click through them as quickly as possible to get to use the app. But it’s important to know what those permissions mean because sometimes we have to go in and change them.

Location, Location, Location

One of the most common asks from apps is to access your iPhone’s location services. For some — like  map or navigation apps  — it’s essential they have access to your phone’s GPS. Otherwise, they won’t work or they’ll be completely unreliable. For other apps — like shopping services — they’ll want to access your location to help send you to the closest store. And then there are apps that want access to your location to run in the background, track where you might be to connect you with nearby friends, or serve you ads, among other uses.

Is This Thing On?

Another common permission request is to access your phone’s camera and/or microphone. Like with a maps app, this is vital for a video chat service like FaceTime or Skype or social media like Facebook or Instagram. But more and more, as voice-controlled assistants like Alexa and Google Home, gain traction, other apps want to access your mic and camera to help you shop, search, and control smart appliances.

Storage and Other Services

And then there’s the ubiquitous “can this app store data on your phone” request. Most apps work best when they’re able to access files and information created to help load and run faster and more efficiently. Apps also like to ask to access your text messages, contacts, cellular service, and calendar. Again, whether an app needs access to your contacts, for example, depends entirely on the app — and your comfort with it. So even if you quickly accept all the permissions an app initially throws at you, you can easily revoke them or give the app a permissions tune-up in your phone’s settings.

Maintaining Your Permissions

Here’s how to manage app permissions on your iPhone: Go to Settings > Privacy and then scroll through the list of various elements to see what apps might be accessing them. Clicking on each category will show you a list of apps using it, and simply tap the switches on the right to turn those app permissions on or off.

Most of the time, an app has a permission because it’s necessary to work properly. But don’t worry about making a mistake here. If you switch off a permission and an app starts acting bananas, you can easily return to Settings and turn the permission back on.

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