What are iPhone and iPad permissions and how do they work?

Most apps on your iPhone will soon ask for your permission to access something. You may have given permission without thinking about it, then wondered how iPhone permissions actually work.

Below we look at the iPhone’s permissions system so you can understand exactly what you’re letting apps do on your device.

What are iPhone permissions?

Permissions are a system built into iOS and iPadOS, the operating system your iPhone or iPad runs on. They control apps’ access to sensitive information on your device, so you can control what data apps can use.

Permissions are important because they give you control over your information. Thanks to them, you can enjoy using an app without having to access all kinds of personal content on your phone.

How do iPhone permissions work?

The first time an app wants to access something sensitive on your iPhone, it will ask for your permission. At that point, you’ll see a banner asking you to approve the request. Ideally, apps should motivate why they need this permission so that they don’t ask you to grant it blindly.

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If you grant the permission, the app will have access to that data until you withdraw the permission (which we discuss below). If you decline it, the app won’t be able to access that data unless you grant the permission later. Some permissions have special options, which we’ll look at in a moment.

If you deny a permission, the app will still work, but it may not work properly. Performance depends on how important that permission is to its operation.

For example, if you deny Google Maps permission to use your location, it won’t be able to give you accurate directions, so it’s not much use. Denying WhatsApp permission to use your microphone won’t affect normal chatting, but you won’t be able to record voice messages.

How to manage permissions on your iPhone

It’s easy to review the permission categories on your iPhone and see what you’ve granted and denied to different apps. To do this, open the Institutions app, scroll down and tap the Privacy entry.

Here you will see an entry for each of the permission types that your iPhone controls. These are as follows (we’ve added a description for anything that isn’t obvious):

  • Location Services

  • Tracking (let apps request to track your activity in apps and websites)

  • Contacts

  • Calendars

  • Memories

  • photos

  • Bluetooth

  • Local network (allow an app to talk to other devices on your current network)

  • Nearby interactions (allows apps to measure the exact distance between your phone and other objects)

  • Microphone

  • Speech Recognition (let the app send voice data to Apple’s servers to process what you’ve said)

  • Camera

  • Health

  • Research sensor and usage data (allows to collect data about how you interact with your device, to share later with research studies)

  • HomeKit

  • Media and Apple Music

  • Files and Folders

  • Movement and fitness (can track your body movements to estimate the number of steps and the like)

  • Focus (tells apps you’ve muted notifications with Focus on your iPhone)

Tap one and you’ll see all the apps that have requested access to that permission. A green on slider means the app has access, while a gray from slider means it doesn’t have that permission. You may not see apps yet for some permissions.

Permissions with detailed controls

While most permission types offer a simple on/off toggle, some categories give you more control. Let’s take a look at this one.

Location Services allows you to choose whether apps can always use your location while you’re using the app, or never. You can also choose to ask again the next time you share your location. Finally, this menu allows you to disable accurate location detection for any app. See how to manage location settings on your iPhone for more information.

If you have the Allow apps to request tracking slide in To follow, any request to track your activity in different apps will be automatically denied. This is a great way to increase privacy on your iPhone.

photos lets you choose whether you want apps to access all photos, none, or just the photos you choose. This allows you to share just a few photos without exposing your entire library.

Health contains several types of data, so be sure to research them all and confirm that you don’t share more than you want.

Advertising rights

At the bottom of the Privacy list, you will see a few additional entries. The first is Analysis and improvements, which allows you to decide whether to automatically send analytics data to Apple. Tap Analytics data here to see what’s being collected, but be warned it’s not in a user-friendly format.

The Apple Advertise menu contains a Personalized ads switch. Turn this off to prevent your iPhone from showing Apple ads relevant to your interests in services like the App Store.

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Finally, if you’re interested in how often apps use the permissions you grant them and contact third-party domains, disable the Record app activity slider under the menu of the same name. After seven days, tap Save app activity to export a JSON file containing the information.

Again, this isn’t human readable, so you’ll need to use a JSON formatter to clean it up.

View permissions by app

In the menu above, you can see all the apps that have requested a certain type of permission. If you prefer the reverse, you can easily see all the permissions an app has requested to use.

To do this, scroll down on the main screen of the Institutions app until you reach your list of installed apps. Tap an app to view the permissions it currently has, then use the sliders to change access as desired.

As a bonus, you’ll also see toggles for other controls not featured above Privacy menu. These include changing what is displayed in Siri and Search for the app, how it works notifications, or it can use background app refresh and Mobile data, and similar.

Be smart with iPhone permissions

There is no one-size-fits-all answer for iPhone permissions. You have to be careful in deciding what to grant and reject for each app.

As a foundation, think about what each app needs to do what it says. It makes sense that Google Duo would request access to your microphone, since it’s used for video calls. But there’s no good reason why a chess game should use your microphone, so you shouldn’t allow that.

Sometimes granting permissions means giving up a little privacy in exchange for convenience. For example, assigning your location to a store’s app can set the nearest store as your default for order pick-up and alert you to special offers when you arrive at the store. It’s up to you if it’s worth not manually selecting these options.

It’s a good idea to regularly review your permissions list to make sure no app has more access than you’d like. Be aware of the app permissions that are the most dangerous.

iPhone app permissions, mastered

We looked at the permissions iOS and iPadOS make available to apps on your iPhone or iPad. App permissions let you control exactly which apps have access so you can use them without transferring too much personal data. Use caution when granting permissions to protect your private information.

Speaking of permissions, the orange and green dots on your iPhone also give you clues when apps are accessing sensitive information.

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