iOS 18 cracks down on apps asking for full address book access

iOS apps that build their own social networks on the back of users’ address books may soon become a thing of the past. In iOS 18, Apple is cracking down on the social apps that ask users’ permission to access their contacts — something social apps often do to connect users with their friends or make suggestions for who to follow. Now, Apple is adding a new two-step permissions pop-up screen that will first ask users to allow or deny access to their contacts, as before, and then, if the user allows access, will allow them to choose which contacts they want to share, if not all.

The changes were introduced in a session at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference focused on user privacy features.

When consumers share their contacts with a third-party app, that app will receive ongoing access to their contacts over time, even as new ones are added, according to Apple. To give users more control over the contacts an app can and cannot access, the permissions screen has two stages.

In the first screen, users confirm if they want to share their contacts with the app or not. This is similar to the prompt that’s available today, though some app makers have utilized the contact-sharing option as a way to block users who decline to share their contacts from accessing their app.

For example, last year the photo-sharing app Lapse climbed to the top of the App Store by employing a mechanism that forced users to invite their friends in order to join. Before that, apps like Poparazzi and Clubhouse demanded full address book access — a growth hack that helped them quickly expand their networks. Amo ID, an app from the founder of Zenly (which sold to Snap), also gained steam by requiring users to invite friends to get in.

These techniques may work to provide an initial rush of user adoption, but in many cases, that hack does not drive sustainable growth in the long term. In the meantime, users have to give up access to the address books in full just to try out new social experiences.

That may now become more difficult, as users who opt to share their address book by tapping “Continue” on the first screen will be taken to a second screen in iOS 18 where they can choose whether or not they want to share all their contacts with an app. Here, users will be able to tap on “Allow Full Access” or a new option to “Select Contacts” if they’d rather limit access.

What’s more, iOS 18 does not require the app developer to make any changes on their part for this functionality to work, nor implement any new API. Instead, if a developer’s app asks for access to the Contacts, these new screens will appear automatically.

On X, developer Nikita Bier, who had sold growth-hacked social apps like Gas and tbh to Discord and Facebook, joked, “It’s the end of the world,” followed by a screenshot of Apple’s announcement of the new privacy feature.

For those more interested in security and privacy, however, the addition is welcome. As security firm Mysk wrote on X, the change would be “sad news for data harvesting apps…” Others pointed out that this would hopefully prevent apps that ask repeatedly for address book access even after they had been denied. Now users could grant them access but limit which contacts they could actually ingest.

In addition, if a developer’s app lets people search for contacts to add, they also don’t need to request full access with iOS 18.

Instead, the new Contact Access Button lets an app show results for contacts the app doesn’t have access to along with a button that says “Add” next to each contact’s name. That way, users can pick and choose which contacts they want to provide to the app on a one-by-one basis with just a tap.

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