Apple Announces New Privacy Features

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Greetings, friends! I’m your personal tech columnist. I’ll be taking the wheel for today’s intro.

This week is a big one for Apple, which is hosting its annual conference for the software developers who make apps for Apple phones, tablets, watches and computers. The company started the weeklong event with a video presentation streamed on Monday, outlining its new features.

The presentation was chock-full of jargon and deeply technical stuff that only engineers would understand. But here’s the news that you may care about:

  • Apple is making it tougher for apps to track you. Unbeknown to many of us, thousands of apps that we lovingly use on our smartphones have invisible trackers running in the background. The trackers may be collecting and sharing our personal information, like our location, email address and phone number, with businesses and other entities for the purpose of serving targeted ads. You can’t opt in or opt out of app tracking.

    That may soon change. Apple said that beginning this fall with its next mobile operating system, iOS 14, it will require so-called third-party apps to ask for your permission to track you.

    Apple will also give iPhone and iPad users more control over how their location is shared. Instead of sharing your precise location with an app, you will be able to share your approximate location, giving a developer a rough idea of where you are. That could be helpful if you are using a news app, for example, and you want to see articles about your hometown but don’t want to share precisely where you live.

    In the past, Apple and Google have required apps to ask for permission to access sensors, such as your camera and microphone. These new protections expand on Apple’s efforts to give users greater transparency and control over the data collected about us. (Your move, Google.)

  • The Mac is about to make a big shift. Have you ever noticed how sluggish Macs feel compared to Apple’s mobile devices? Macs use Intel processors, but mobile processors have outpaced Intel chips in terms of speed and power efficiency. Even the cheapest new Apple phone, the $399 iPhone SE, by some measures outperforms the most powerful Mac laptops, which cost more than $2,500.

    That’s why it’s a big deal that this week Apple announced the beginning of the Mac’s transition to Apple-made silicon, which will be based on the same chip architecture powering iPhones and iPads. If all goes well, we can expect Macs with snappier performance and much longer battery life, and they should also be able to run iPhone and iPad apps.

    The transition to Apple chips is expected to take two years. If you buy a Mac in 2022, it should have the horsepower of an iPad, but work with a mouse and keyboard.

  • The Apple Watch is trying to be more helpful during the pandemic. Apple said the next version of the Apple Watch operating system, WatchOS 7, would take advantage of the watch’s motion sensors to detect when you are washing your hands — and start a 20-second timer to ensure you scrub thoroughly. The watch will also use its sensors to track sleep patterns. These are relatively minor new features, but we could all probably use better sleep and hygiene these days.

Thanks to Brian for tag-teaming with me. This is Shira Ovide for the rest of today’s dispatch.

The last few months have been A LOT. As the stresses on our bodies, finances, families and minds have piled up, it’s gotten more complicated to seek help as physicians and mental health specialists paused seeing patients in person because of coronavirus fears.

But a silver lining, said Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a psychologist and founder of the mental health resource Therapy for Black Girls, is that moving therapy sessions online has been more rewarding for some people — although that hasn’t been true for everyone.

For some, taking face-to-face interaction out of therapy makes difficult conversations easier. “Adding a screen is just enough of a barrier where it maybe feels safer to share something,” Dr. Bradford said.

Dr. Bradford had advice for people seeking therapy right now through online appointments. During virtual sessions, try to find a private, personal space — even if that means taking a video call alone in your car, while on a walk or in the bathroom with the door closed.

She also advised people to give themselves a time to transition after sessions end, rather than jumping right back into family or work obligations.

Dr. Bradford also said people shouldn’t be afraid to find a new therapist if their current one isn’t a good match, for example a practitioner who isn’t responsive to the added stresses that some black people are feeling.

For people worried about costs, Dr. Bradford said some individual therapists and apps such as Talkspace offer free appointments, and a number of health insurers have been waiving co-payments for people to speak to therapists virtually during the coronavirus.

And nonprofit groups including the Loveland Foundation, Open Path Psychotherapy Collective and the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation offer financial assistance or lower-cost options for people who are seeking therapy.

Rescued baby swans! Look how fuzzy they are! (Thanks to my colleague Dodai Stewart for sharing this one.)

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