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iOS 15.5 Has a Bunch of Privacy Features Not Enough People Know About

We'll walk you through four ways to boost your privacy on your iPhone with Siri, Mail and more.

Sareena Dayaram
Sareena Dayaram
Sareena Dayaram Senior Editor
Sareena is a senior editor for CNET covering the mobile beat including device reviews. She is a seasoned multimedia journalist with more than a decade's worth of experience producing stories for television and digital publications across Asia's financial capitals including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Mumbai. Prior to CNET, Sareena worked at CNN as a news writer and Reuters as a producer.
Expertise Huawei, Oppo, smartphones, smartwatches Credentials
  • More than a decade of journalism experience
Patrick Holland Managing Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
Expertise Apple, iPhone, iOS, Android, Samsung, Sony, Google, Motorola, interviews, coffee equipment, cats Credentials
  • Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
Sareena Dayaram
Patrick Holland
5 min read
A pile of different iPhone models

Apple has always touted the iPhone as superior when it comes to privacy and protecting your data. iOS 15.5 takes that to the next level.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Many people want a better grip on data privacy and security, and with iOS 15, Apple took several significant steps to bolster privacy for the iPhone. iOS 15 arrived in September, and Apple has since rolled out a handful of updates. The latest version is iOS 15.5. (Here's how to check if your iPhone can run iOS 15 and how to download it.)
In a matter of weeks, Apple holds WWDC, its annual software developers conference, where iOS 16 is expected to be revealed. The follow-up to iOS 15 will likely be in beta until the fall, which means now is the time to tweak and adjust your privacy settings in iOS 15.5.

Once you download the most current version of the OS, you'll have access to Apple's new FaceTime features that, for the first time, let Android and PC users participate. You'll also get iMessage improvements that make it easier to keep track of links and photos your friends have sent. And there's access to plenty of new privacy and security features. If you're one of the billion-plus people who use an iPhone, it's worth learning about the privacy updates available in iOS 15.5 as well as changing your settings right away.

Read moreiOS 16 Wish List: iPhone Features We Hope Apple Will Debut at WWDC

In a nutshell, the privacy changes in iOS 15.5 give you better control of the data you share with third parties and reveal how apps use data from your iPhone. In some cases, these privacy tools can limit collection of your personal data. Though these privacy updates don't drastically change your day-to-day experience using your iPhone, except maybe in the case of Siri, they alter how your Apple device interacts with the internet and third parties on the hunt for your personal information. 

Keep in mind, Apple has long used privacy as a selling point to stand out from rivals like Google and Facebook. Even though the Cupertino, California-based company has been harping about protecting consumer data from digital advertisers and internet service providers, it has also reportedly bolstered its own search ad business, and hired (and then fired) a former ad executive from Facebook.

Read moreThis iPhone Setting Can Stop Ads From Following You Across the Web

There's also a catch: Most new privacy features are available for free, but not all. To take advantage of certain features, you'll either have to own a newer iPhone or pony up some cash to buy a new current iPhone.

These privacy changes have digital advertisers and even journalists behind popular newsletters up in arms, but they're good for you, regardless of what Apple's motives might be.

Read moreWhy You Need to Stop Texting People Your iPhone Photos. Hint: It's About Your Privacy

Watch this: iOS 15 best features: How Focus mode improved my iPhone

Does Siri share my voice data to the cloud in iOS 15?

With iOS 15.5, one of the biggest privacy concerns for voice assistants will be stamped out, according to Apple. Unlike Amazon Alexa and virtually all other competitors, Siri will no longer ship your audio to servers for processing. Instead it'll process the sound of your voice directly on your iPhone, thanks to on-device speech recognition.
Apple said iPhones and iPads will take advantage of processing power on Apple devices to analyze speech, meaning Siri will no longer need an active internet connection to function.

Read more: The Best iPhone Models in 2022

For you that means, Siri will respond to basic commands such as setting an alarm, setting a reminder or launching an app while offline. This update doesn't include asking Siri to search the web for something.

Beyond amped-up privacy, Apple says that Siri's response time is faster for some requests, since the audio processing can now happen offline.

There is a catch. Only iPhone and iPads with an A12 Bionic chip or newer can take advantage of Siri's in-device audio processing.

How do I know which apps access my data and phone sensors?

If you were a fan of Apple's App Tracking Transparency feature, then you'll probably love the App Privacy report too. Taking a page from Safari's playbook, the report is a new section accessible in Settings that gives you an overview of how apps handle your privacy. You can see when individual apps request to access the camera or microphone, and also see where or with whom your data might be shared within the last seven days. All this brings an added layer of transparency to iOS 15.5.

A speaker at WWDC 2021 keynote introducing App Privacy Report

Apple first gave us a peek at the iPhone's App Privacy Report during WWDC 2021.


What is Mail Privacy Protection and how does it stop tracking?

Apple's Mail Privacy protection feature is built into the default Mail app on your iPhone. It limits the amount of data senders collect when you open their promotional emails or even newsletters. In particular, the feature gives you the option to hide your IP address, so it can't be linked to other online activity or used to determine your location.This feature blocks spammy email marketers from learning more about your email or internet activity. 

Read more: Here Are 2 Easy Steps to Double-Check Your iPhone's Privacy Settings

Here's how Apple described it: 

In the Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. The new feature helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email, and masks their IP address so it can't be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.

Apple also said Safari obfuscates your IP address.

Is iCloud Plus Private Relay similar to a VPN?

Paid subscribers to iCloud Plus get a couple of new privacy features. One of them is Safari's Private Relay tool, which hides your web browsing behavior from advertisers and internet service providers. It does this by encrypting the traffic leaving your iPhone, so that it cannot be intercepted by third parties or Apple, thus preventing them from reading what you're searching for.

Read more10 iOS 15 Hidden Features You Might Have Missed

The second feature is called Hide My Email. If you're an iCloud Plus subscriber, your iPhone can generate a random email address for when you sign up for memberships or retail accounts. Hide My Email forwards whatever is sent to the "fake address" to your actual email address. Essentially, Hide My Email launders your messages from a retailer so that they don't know your actual email address. The idea is that fewer companies will have access to people's direct email addresses. 
Now that you have your iPhone's privacy all in order, read Beyond Basic iPhone: Tweak Your iOS 15 Settings Like a Power User.

Watch this: Everything We Hope Apple Will Add to iOS 16