At WWDC 2021, Apple teased a bunch of privacy features coming to iOS 15 one of which was App Privacy Report – a section that showed you precisely what sensors, data, or domains are accessed by different apps on your iPhone. When iOS 15 was released for the public last month, Apple introduced ‘Record App Activity’ – a toned-down version of App Privacy Report where users can save their app activity and see a seven-day summary.
The Cupertino company has now updated this section to show you a full-fledged summary of recorded app activity inside the App Privacy Report on iOS 15.2 beta. Among the information available after setting up App Privacy Report is an ‘App Network Activity’ section which provides all the domains that were contacted by different apps on your iPhone. In this post, we’ll dwell on what App Network Activity is all about, how it’s beneficial to you, and how you may use it on iOS.
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What is App Network Activity?
App Network Activity is Apple’s way of telling you which domains that apps installed on your system have been contacted in the past. When you use an app, it connects to the internet and shares information within its own internal domains as well as other third-party domains. These external domains can be anything from a partner website to the app you’re using, a tracker, or an analytics service that may create a profile based on your network activity.
Apple’s move to bring App Network Activity to iOS is to give you an idea of what domains get contacted often by the apps you run on your iPhone. This way, you get to see these two things:
- Know when an app contacts an external domain other than its own domain more often
- Know when a domain gets contacted by multiple apps on your iPhone
In addition to domains contacted, App Network Activity shows you a list of all the websites you have visited from within an app.
iOS’ new App Network Activity is part of ‘App Privacy Report’, a new tool that shows stuff that apps use on your phone. Besides App Network Activity, there’s a Data & Sensor Access section that shows which apps accessed a particular sensor on your phone at what time. Then there’s Website Network Activity, which lists the domains that were contacted by websites you visited on Safari or an in-app browser.
How does App Network Activity help?
App Network Activity on iOS 15 is an extension of two privacy features that Apple released on iOS 14 – App Tracking Transparency and Privacy Nutrition Labels. The former gave users the power to opt out of tracking in apps and avoid sharing their sensitive data with third-party services. The latter made sure that developers who host apps on the App Store share what data is linked back to you and how it’s used to track your activity.
With iOS 15’s new App Privacy Report section (which also hosts App Network Activity), you get granular information about when apps access different kinds of data and sensors on your iPhone, when these apps contact different domains, the domains that are contacted the most from your device, and which apps have contacted the same domain in the past few days. This way, you don’t just see when an app’s tracking you but also know to tell you who else is collecting info about you other than the app.
Apps, just like websites, collect data and share it with other domains internally and externally. With App Network Activity, you can also learn how often data is being sent to different domains and if a domain is commonly contacted by multiple apps, you can be sure that this domain has created a profile based on your app activity.
This way, you know which apps to avoid using in the future and which domains you should keep in check so that they’re prevented from profiling you for future ad-targeting. Although there’s no option to prevent a domain from getting contacted, the move to show App Network Activity is great in terms of transparency, as you can check the domains contacted, not just by third-party apps but also by Apple’s apps as well. With such emphasis on privacy lately, who knows, we might even see options to choose which domains are contacted sometime in the future, maybe in the next version of iOS.
How to enable App Network Activity on iOS 15
In order to check an app’s network activity and see what domains were contacted by it, you need to first enable App Network Activity on your iPhone. Since App Network Activity is part of iOS 15’s latest App Privacy Report feature, you will only be able to access this function if you’re running the iOS 15.2 beta on your iPhone. So, if you’re enrolled in the iOS 15 Beta program, make sure you’ve updated your device to iOS 15.2 beta to be able to access App Network Activity.
To enable App Network Activity, you need to first turn on App Privacy Report on your iPhone. For this, open the Settings app and go to ‘Privacy’.
On the next screen, scroll down and tap on the ‘App Privacy Report’ option.
If this is the first time you’re using the feature, you’ll need to turn it on. For that, tap on the ‘Turn On App Privacy Report’ option.
App Privacy Report will now be enabled and it will start collecting information about what sensors are accessed and what domains and websites are getting contacted from your iPhone.
How to check an app’s network activity on your iPhone
Once you’ve enabled App Privacy Report, you’ll be able to see the App Network Activity for individual apps on your phone from the time you enable it. From here, you can check various details regarding network activity for all the apps installed on iOS. Here’s what info you can gather by checking App Network Activity on iOS 15:
See which apps contacted different domains recently
When you enable App Privacy Report and continue using different apps on your iPhone, iOS will start gathering key information on various app activities including their network usage. To see which apps contacted domains recently, go to Settings > Privacy > App Privacy Report.
Inside the ‘App Privacy Report’ screen, scroll down and look for the App Network Activity section. Inside this section, you’ll see apps that were in contact with domains in the past week. If there are a bunch of apps that accessed domains, you can tap on ‘Show All’.
Now, the ‘App Network Activity’ screen will open. Here, you’ll see a list of apps that contacted domains in the last 7 days in the order of decreasing activity, by default. The list of apps will also reveal the number of occasions for which the app made contact with a domain, either internally or externally. The frequency of contact made to domains will also be displayed in terms of a bar so you have a visual idea of which app contacted domains more often than others.
If you wish to see the list of apps in alphabetical order, you can tap on the ‘Sort By’ option at the top right corner and then select the ‘Alphabetical’ option from the menu.
When you do that, this list will now appear in alphabetical order.
Learn which domains were contacted by an app
After App Privacy Report is enabled, you can check which domains were accessed by a certain app from within the App Network Activity screen. To check what domains an app has contacted, go to Settings > Privacy > App Privacy Report and select the app you want to see more information for under the ‘App Network Activity’ section. In this instance, we selected the Google app.
When the app’s info screen opens, you’ll see who the app is owned by, followed by the list of domains contacted by the app.
Some apps show domains that were directly contacted by the app and some reveal all domains that were accessed from this app. In the case of the Google app, iOS mentions that the app’s developer hasn’t updated the app to show whether domains were contacted directly from within the app or through an in-app website. Apps that don’t have such support will show domains listed under ‘Domains Contacted By App’.
Apps that have been updated to show such details inside the ‘Domains Contacted Directly By App’. For example, if you access the Health app’s network activity, you’ll see the list of domains that were contacted directly.
You can take a look at all the domains contacted by an app by tapping on ‘Show All’.
When looking at domains contacted by an app, you’ll notice a number on the extreme right side; this number denotes the frequency at which this domain was accessed by the app. In addition to this info, you’ll also see the date and time when the domain was last contacted.
Know which app contacted the most domains
App Network Activity also lists the apps based on how often they contacted domains. To know which app made contact with the most domains, go to Settings > Privacy > App Privacy Report and tap on ‘Show All’ under the ‘App Network Activity’ section.
On the next screen, you’ll see the ‘Most Active’ section by default, showing you apps in decreasing order of domain usage. Each of the apps will show the number of times it contacted domains along with a bar to show a graphical representation of which apps contacted domains the most.
You can then go ahead and select an app that has contacted domains to see what domains were accessed. When you select an app from the list, you’ll get a full list of domains that the app contacted.
Check if the same domain was contacted by multiple apps
When you have several apps installed on your iPhone, App Network Activity can tell you when multiple apps contact the same domain. You can check this by going to Settings > Privacy > App Privacy Report and scrolling down to the ‘Most Contacted Domains’ section.
This section will show you domains that were contacted the most number of times. To check whether the domain was contacted by multiple apps, select the domain. If there were indeed multiple apps that contacted this selected domain, you’ll see them under the ‘Apps That Contacted This Domain’ section. In the same list, you’ll see when the domain was last contacted by the concerned apps as well.
That’s all you need to know about App Network Activity on iOS 15.
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