Apple to Limit Accelerometer and Gyroscope Access in Safari on iOS 12.2 for Privacy Reasons

Last month, Apple released iOS 12.2 in beta with several new features, including the Apple News app in Canada, a redesigned TV remote in Control Center, support for adding HomeKit-enabled TVs in the Home app, and more.

The upcoming software update also introduces a new Motion & Orientation Access toggle under Settings > Safari > Privacy & Security. Toggled off by default, this new setting must be turned on in order for websites to display features that rely on motion data from the gyroscope and accelerometer in the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.


To test this, we loaded the What Web Can Do Today website on an ‌iPhone‌ running the first beta of iOS 12.2. With the Motion & Orientation Access setting toggled on, the page shows real-time accelerometer and gyroscope data from the ‌iPhone‌. With the setting toggled off, no motion data is shown.

Another example is Apple's motion-based iPhone experience site. This page normally allows you to tilt your actual ‌iPhone‌ to swivel the iPhone XS Max on the screen with tech specs. With Motion & Orientation Access toggled off, however, only a static image of the ‌iPhone XS‌ Max is shown without tech specs.


This privacy-focused change could be in response to a WIRED report last year that claimed thousands of websites have unmitigated access to motion, orientation, proximity, and light sensor data on mobile devices. Software engineer Felix Krause also filed a radar and notified Apple's security team about this matter in 2017.

As noted by Digiday, the setting could have implications for AR/VR advertising:

For example, Samsung's "Samsung Within" web-based interactive experience, developed by R/GA to promote the hardware brand's legacy and its Galaxy Note 9 phone, uses the accelerometer to let people explore the night sky.

"It's definitely going to break things," said Kai Tier, executive technology director at R/GA.

These AR/VR experiences may have to rely on fallback versions that people can navigate with swipe gestures instead, but this largely defeats the purpose of motion-based, interactive campaigns.

It's quite possible Apple could tweak how this feature works in time for the public release of iOS 12.2. Perhaps the setting will be toggled on by default in a subsequent beta, for example, or Safari could prompt users for permission to access motion data when necessary as it does with location data.

Tag: Safari

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
22 months ago

Not sure how much this would preserve privacy, but at the same time I can't imagine accelerometer data is very largely used in mobile web dev in the first place.

Sounds more just like security theatre being put on by Apple, but if anyone out there knows something I don't, by all means feel free to enlighten me.

According to the WIRED report: ”the information could fuel various types of attacks, like using ambient light data to make inferences about a user's browsing, or using motion sensor data as a sort of keylogger to deduce things like PIN numbers”

So this seems like it could be a potential threat to privacy and the security of your personal information. Albeit a very small one.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
22 months ago
One can hope that a pop-up appears when a website requires gyroscope access. Without one, and the setting off by default, many consumers would be at loss since most wouldn’t know how to turn it on.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
22 months ago
This article seems to be misleading. It doesn't seem to me that Apple is limiting access; it seems to just be making that feature "opt in" rather than "opt out".
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
22 months ago

Not sure how much this would preserve privacy, but at the same time I can't imagine accelerometer data is very largely used in mobile web dev in the first place.

Sounds more just like security theatre being put on by Apple, but if anyone out there knows something I don't, by all means feel free to enlighten me.

It’s legitimate, there are algorithms to figure out your keystrokes based on gyro and accelerometer data. MIT demo’d it a few years ago IIRC.

Update: done is 2011

https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2011/10/researchers-can-keylog-your-pc-using-your-iphones-accelerometer/
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
22 months ago

Not sure how much this would preserve privacy, but at the same time I can't imagine accelerometer data is very largely used in mobile web dev in the first place.

Sounds more just like security theatre being put on by Apple, but if anyone out there knows something I don't, by all means feel free to enlighten me.

I think there's some potential for collected accelerometer/gyroscope data to be exploited with respect to creating motion/location profiles of a phone user. It depends on the accuracy and drift of the sensors, time references, signal processing techniques employed, required accuracy, etc.

I wouldn't be shocked if a very clever individual/company could create something interesting of value (ie, sellable processed user information) from collected raw sensor data.

I'm glad Apple is thinking ahead with respect to the possibilities and privacy implications.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
22 months ago

Interesting. The limitations to interactive ad or experiential campaigns would be frustrating for many companies that have things in the works. But this would provide another potential opportunity for Apple, which they really should look into: an internally-hosted and -approved ad platform. Apple should offer a way to have interactive ads that rely on iOS device information to the company for review and eventual hosting once approved. This way, they keep control of where that data goes (I think many trust Apple more than any other company to keep the data secure and only used for the purpose of displaying the experience), and Apple can take a reasonable fee for the privacy and availability of such a service that it hosts, adding another service-based revenue stream. It's a good way to capitalize on its user base without "selling" its customer information... Instead, they're just getting paid to be a watchdog over your private device metrics to let you experience more types of media online worry-free.

They had that. It was called iAd and it was a major flop.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

'iPhone 12 mini' Name Reappears in Leaked Apple iPhone 12 Case Stickers

Friday September 25, 2020 1:58 am PDT by
Earlier this week a proven leaker claimed that the iPhone 12 lineup would be named "iPhone 12 mini," "iPhone 12," "iPhone 12 Pro," and "iPhone 12 Pro Max," and today the same nomenclature has appeared again in a photo depicting alleged stickers from unreleased Silicone iPhone cases originating from Apple's international distribution center in Ireland. The photo shows three stickers with the...

New Images Leak of iPhone 12 Braided USB-C to Lightning Cable

Thursday September 24, 2020 2:37 am PDT by
Rumors suggest Apple's upcoming iPhone 12 models will ship with a new Lightning to USB-C cable that includes a braided fabric design. Images of the purported cables were leaked in July, and today leaker Mr White has shared new images that give us a closer look at what we might get included in the iPhone 12 box. The photos show a USB-C to Lightning cable with a clearly braided design rather...

New Version of Microsoft Office Coming Next Year That Won't Require a Subscription

Thursday September 24, 2020 1:53 am PDT by
Microsoft will next year offer a new perpetual release of Microsoft Office for Mac and Windows that doesn't require a subscription to use, according to the software giant (via Windows Central). "Microsoft Office will also see a new perpetual release for both Windows and Mac, in the second half of 2021," said Microsoft in a blog post announcing the next version of its Exchange server,...

Apple Releases iOS 14.0.1 With Fix for Bug That Resets Default Apps After Rebooting

Thursday September 24, 2020 10:12 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS 14.0.1, the first update to the iOS 14 operating system that was released on September 16. Today's update is a bug fix update addressing issues that weren't able to be fixed in the initial iOS 14 launch. The iOS 14.0.1 update is available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access the new software, go to Settings > General > Software Update. ...

Apple's iPhone 12 Event Could Happen on October 13 Based on Rumors From Mobile Operators

Wednesday September 23, 2020 11:51 am PDT by
Apple's upcoming iPhone-centric event could perhaps be held on Tuesday, October 13, according to information shared with MacRumors by an employee at a UK cellular carrier. There's no way for us to confirm the dates at this point in time nor are we sure on the credibility of the source, but even without a rumor, Tuesday, October 13 is a good guess based on Apple's historic launch timelines, ...

Apple Releases macOS Catalina 10.15.7 With Fixes for WiFi Bug, 27-Inch iMac Graphics Issues

Thursday September 24, 2020 10:32 am PDT by
Apple today released macOS Catalina 10.15.7, the latest update to the macOS Catalina software. macOS Catalina 10.15.7 fixes several major bugs that Mac users have been experiencing, and it comes a month after the latest macOS Catalina release. The ‌‌‌macOS Catalina‌‌‌ 10.15.6 Supplemental Update can be downloaded from the Mac App Store using the Update feature in the System...

Apple Designs Custom Face Mask for Corporate and Retail Employees [Updated with Unboxing]

Wednesday September 9, 2020 11:13 am PDT by
Apple's design team has created a new kind of protective mask that's being distributed to retail and corporate employees, reports Bloomberg. The mask is called the Apple Face Mask and it was developed in-house in Cupertino by the Engineering and Industrial Design teams at Apple. Last week, an Apple employee sent MacRumors an image of the mask design, which can be seen up above. The Apple ...

Video Offers Closer Look at Apple Face Mask

Friday September 25, 2020 5:25 am PDT by
YouTube channel Unbox Therapy has today shared a new video giving a closer look at Apple's reusable face masks for corporate and retail employees. Apple's own face mask was designed by the company's Engineering and Industrial Design teams amid the global health crisis for corporate and retail employees, and the boxes include Apple's famous "Designed by Apple in California" text. The...

Top Stories: iOS 14 Feature Tour, 'iPhone 12 mini' Rumors, Apple Watch Band Controversy

Saturday September 26, 2020 6:00 am PDT by
Things started to calm down a bit this week following last week's rush of media event, Apple Watch and iPad launches, and the release of iOS 14 and other operating updates. But that doesn't mean there wasn't still a lot of news, from digging deeper into iOS 14 to more iPhone 12 rumors to the uproar over trying to exchange band sizes on the new Apple Watch. On top of all of that, we heard...

Interest in iOS 14 Home Screen Ideas Helps Pinterest Break Daily Download Record

Wednesday September 23, 2020 4:37 am PDT by
Apple's introduction of widgets on the Home Screen in iOS 14 has driven a surge in interest among users looking to customize their iPhone, and that has reportedly had a knock-on effect for Pinterest, whose iOS app has seen record downloads as users flock to its content seeking design inspiration. As reported by TechCrunch, App Store intelligence firm Apptopia was first to note the impact of ...