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All the new ways your iPhone protects your privacy in iOS 14

Apple is upping its privacy game in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 with new photo and location controls.

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- 03:25
iOS 14

The App Library organizes all your iPhone app into one space.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Apple continues to beat the drum on user privacy for iPhone and iPad owners, adding new features to iOS 14 like better location controls and limiting which photos an app has access to. There are also new tracking controls, which require an app to be more transparent about the data it collects on you -- and your permission is required.

I've been testing the first iOS 14 developer beta and its new privacy features for about a week now and have had a chance to really dig into the new tools. Here's how they help keep your personal information secure and how you'll use them when iOS 14 launches later this year.

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You no longer have to give apps your exact location

Up until iOS 14, when you approved an app's location request you were allowing it to see exactly where you were. But most apps will work just fine with your general location. 

Location requests from websites in Safari are a prime example. Usually, it's some sort of retail business that makes the request so it can find stores near you. Instead of giving the site your address, providing it with your approximate whereabouts will still make it possible to find nearby stores, but you're not giving up private info. 

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Forget giving random apps your home address. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

I haven't seen an approximate request pop up yet -- I assume apps have to update for iOS 14 and indicate what kind of request they want to make, but even if an app wants a more specific position, you can tell iOS 14 to only give out your generalized location. 

On your iPhone, open the Settings app and go to Privacy > Location Services to view a list of apps that have requested access to your location. Tap on any app and you'll find a toggle for Precise Location; slide it to the Off position to give the app your approximate location. 

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Each app gets its own curated photo album now. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

You get to pick which photos an app has access to

This is by far my favorite privacy feature in iOS 14. Instead of either granting an app access to your entire photo library or nothing at all, you can now select specific photos and videos that the app will have access to. In essence, you have the option of creating a handpicked photo library for specific apps. 

If you'd like, you can grant an app full access to your photo library like it's always had. 

The first time an app tries to access your photo library on iOS 14, you'll see a prompt asking if you want to give access to Select Photos or Allow Access to All Photos

If you choose Select Photos, you'll be asked to pick photos in your library. The next time that same app wants to access your photos, you'll be asked if you want to add more to its own specific library or leave it alone. 

It's a bit of extra work, but for those who are careful about which apps have access to their photos and videos, it's a fantastic improvement on the old all-or-nothing approach. 

At any time, you can go to Settings > Privacy > Photos to tweak your settings for individual apps. 

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That orange dot above the signal bars? That means the microphone is being used. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Know when your microphone or camera is in use

We've all heard the speculation that apps like Facebook or Instagram are accessing our phone's microphones to listen to our conversations and then show us ads based on what they hear. CNET's testing didn't find that to be happening, but the theory is still out there. 

With a new feature in iOS 14, you'll know whenever an app is accessing your microphone or camera. There's a new indicator that's shown just above the iPhone's signal meter. An orange dot tells you when an app is currently accessing your microphone, while a green dot indicates an app is accessing your camera. 

In my testing thus far, I've only seen either dot when I expected to see it -- orange when using the Memos app, and green when the camera is being used. If nothing else, it provides peace of mind that your conversations aren't secretly being listened to. 

Privacy features aren't the only thing that Apple added to iOS 14: Widgets on the home screen are now a thing, there are improvements to iMessage group conversations and picture-in-picture makes its iPhone debut.