How to Log App Activity to See Which iPhone Apps Are Spying on You
Apple knows that most iPhone users care about their privacy, especially when using their favorite apps. After all, data such as photos, contacts, and location information should be kept secret from your eyes only.
With the release of iOS 15, you now have the ability to see what data your apps are accessing by recording your iPhone app activity and digging into the app activity report.
Why should you log app activity on your iPhone?
It’s no secret that developers collect and use our data to better understand who is using their app and why they are using it. With this information, these companies can better personalize their ads and experiences to increase their profits.
For many smartphone users, this fact is uncomfortable and a bit like being spied on. Fortunately, by logging app activity, you can see what data your apps are accessing and make changes to protect your information.
For example, if you find that one of your apps is collecting more data than you’re comfortable with, you can delete it and try an alternative. Or, you can identify apps with too many iPhone or iPad permissions and reset those permissions to suit your needs better.
Who has access to the activity feature of the app?
To access your app’s Activity, you’ll need iOS 15.2, iPadOS 15.2, or watchOS 8.3 or later. If you are unable to follow the steps below, make sure your device is updated to the latest software version.
How to Log App Activity on Your iPhone
To start recording app activity on your iPhone, you need to enable it in your settings. First, open the Settings app, then follow these steps:
- To select Private life from the settings.
- Scroll to the bottom and select Record application activity.
- Switch to the Record application activity characteristic.
How to Access and Read the App Activity Report
Your device will start tracking your app activity as soon as you enable the feature. You can then see your app activity data in the app activity report, which we’ll explain how to access below.
The app activity report gives you an overview of apps that accessed data like your location or microphone over a seven-day period.
The App Activity Report will also tell you when the apps or websites you visit within the apps are contacting the domains. When using an application, it is common for information to be shared with third-party domains such as other websites or even trackers.
Using the report, you can get the information you need to make better decisions to protect your privacy.
Application activity report download
To download the application’s activity report, return to the Settings and select Private life > Record application activity > Record application activity.
Now choose what you want to do with the app activity report. The report is in NDJSON format, which can be opened with any text editor. You’ll probably need to send it to a computer for that, though.
For example, you can AirDrop the file on your Mac (if you have one) and open the file in TextEdit. Or, you can email the file to yourself and open it using Notepad on a Windows PC.
Reading the application activity report
When you first open the report, you’ll be faced with a crazy amount of numbers and terms. Although it may seem a bit overwhelming at first, all you need to know is what to look for.
Here are some key terms:
- Accessor: Whenever you see this term in the report, an application is accessing your data.
- Network activity: Whenever you see this term in the report, an application is connected to a specific domain (like the ones mentioned earlier).
When you look at accessories, you will see some categories in the entry. These categories show what the app accessed and will even provide a timestamp of when the access happened.
Categories and resources, listed on Apple’s website, include:
- Camera: Your device’s camera
- contacts: Your contacts
- Site: Your location data
- Media library: Your media files, like music, podcasts, and movies
- Microphone: Your device’s microphone
- Pictures: Your photo library
- Screen recording: Your screenshots and recordings
Let’s take a look at some examples.
As you can see here, the accessor was Avanio Labs (a photo editing app) and the app accessed the user’s photo library.
This is an example of access that makes sense. Photo editors need access to your device’s photo library to work properly.
In this example, the accessor was Walmart and the application accessed the user’s location data.
Again, this makes sense if Walmart was looking for nearby stores.
In this example, you can see that the Zola.com website has connected to Google.com through Facebook Messenger. This particular user opened a Zola wedding invitation online by clicking the link in Facebook Messenger.
For network activity, you can see various information about apps connecting to other domains. For example, you’ll see the domain along with the time of the connection (first timestamp), the website that made the connection (context), and more.
Finally, in this example, we see that the Calm app has connected to stats.g.doubleclick.net which is a Google cookie used to collect user data.
What do you do after reading the report?
If, upon reviewing your report, you find that network connections are being made that you don’t recognize, it might be time to remove this app and look for an alternative that you can trust more.
You also need to make sure your applications aren’t accessing resources they shouldn’t be accessing. If so, it’s time to change your app permissions to prevent access in the future.
While it’s okay for us to just accept the deal and move on, it’s a surefire way to transmit data without even realizing it.
Apple lets you take your iPhone security seriously
While we still have a long way to go for true data transparency and privacy, this iOS feature is a step in the right direction.
Remember: To best ensure your privacy, learn which apps you use and what data they access. Finally, periodically check in with your app permissions to ensure your apps only access what you want.
Apps can abuse permissions on Android and iPhone to steal your private data. Here’s an introduction to permissions and the most dangerous ones to watch out for.
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