How to Manage App Permissions on Your iPhone or iPad

By Chris Hoffman on March 14th, 2015

Apple has added an increasingly sophisticated app permission system to iOS over the years. It’s up to you whether an app gets access to everything from your device’s sensors and personal information to notifications and cellular data.

The first time an app wants to use something that requires permission, it has to ask you. You can see which apps have various permissions and manage them later, too.

Permissions 101

Typically, a well-designed app will ask for permission before it does something that will require the permission. Apps are often set up to explain why they’ll request the perimssion. For example, an app might only request access to your photo library when you try to attach a photo. This gives you an idea of why exactly an app will need that permission, and you’ll see the system permission prompt.

if you agree, the app will have the permission forever — or until you remove it yourself. If you disagree, the app can never ask for this permission again — this avoids the problem of an app repeatedly asking permission to do something you don’t want it to do. You can still give the app the permission afterwards, but you’ll have to visit the system Settings screen.

Some apps behave kind of badly. For example, you might open a mobile game and immediately see a request to send you push notifications. Unless you want to be pestered by that game, just say no. If a developer doesn’t bother explaining what the permission will be used for, and you don’t see why it’s useful, say no. You can always activate the permission later if you need it.

Manage a Single App’s Permissions

There are several ways to manage permissions. You can dig through the Settings screen to look at different types of privacy and notification perimssions, seeing which app has which permission. If you’re particularly concerned about a certain type of permission — perhaps you don’t want to be pestered with notifications or you want to save battery life by minimizing apps that have permission to refresh in the background — this is useful.

You can also just look at a single app, seeing which permissions it has and toggling them on or off. To do this, open the Settings app and scroll down to the list of apps at the very bottom.

Tap an app and you’ll see the permissions it wants. You can enable or disable individual permissions for specific apps from here.

Privacy Permissions

Most types of permissions are lumped together under the “Privacy” category. This includes location services (GPS), contacts, calendars, reminders, Bluetooth, microphone, camera, health, HomeKit, and motion activity. Apps can also request access to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and that permission is stored here, too.

Open the Settings app, tap Privacy, and tap one of the categories to see which apps have access to what. This is a quick way to do an audit of your permissions — seeing which apps have access to things like your location, photos, and other personal things. You can revoke access from an app by disabling the permission, although some of the app’s features may stop working properly. Removing an app from your device will also revoke its access to everything.

For some types of permissions, you can tweak settings beyond just choosing whether a permission is allowed or denied. For example, if you tap Location Services, you can select whether apps get access to your location always, never, or just while you’re using the app.

Cellular Data

You can choose which apps have the ability to use cellular data. This is useful if you have a data plan with very little data and you’re trying to conserve it as much as possible. You can tell some apps to not use cellular data, and they’ll only update and perform other tasks when you’re connected to W-iFi.

To manage this permission, open the Settings app, tap the Cellular category, and scroll down to the list of apps. You can see how much cellular data each app has used and disable cellular data access for specific apps.

Unlike other permissions, this permission is granted automatically. When you install an app, it gets access to cellular data unless you come here and disable that option.

Notifications

Apps also have to request permission to send you push notifications. Open the Settings app and tap the Notifications category to see which apps have permission to send you notifications. You can control exactly how those notifications appear — whether they appear on your lock screen, whether there’s a sound or not, or whether there’s just a badge. If you don’t want any notifications, you can tap and app and slide the “Allow Notifications” slider to Off.

Apps you’ve disabled notifications for will appear at the very bottom of the list here, under “Do Not Include.” Select one of these apps and enable notifications for it if you’d now like to see notifications from an app you denied permission to previously.

Background App Refresh

On recent versions of iOS, apps can now use “background app refresh.” This allows them to do some work in the background, automatically fetching new data so they’ll have up-to-date information when you open them. However, this can be a drain on battery life. if you’re trying to squeeze more battery life out of your phone or tablet, disabling background app refresh can help.

To control which apps get the ability to refresh in the background, open the Settings app, tap General, and tap Background App Refresh. Scroll through the list and examine the apps that have permission to do this. It’s up to you to choose which apps should be able to refresh in the background, and which shouldn’t. For maximum battery life — especially for an iPad that just sits on a table most of the time — you can disable background app refresh for all apps by toggling the Background App Refresh option at the top of the screen.


You don’t generally have to micromanage these permissions afterwards. Just make the appropriate decisions as you install and use your apps for the first time. But, if you want to look over your permissions and take full control, it’s easy. Unlike on Android, you don’t need to go through the trouble of rooting your phone — it’s all available out of the box.

Image Credit: Noodles and Beef on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 03/14/15
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