Security Check is Apple’s new iOS feature for those in abusive relationships

This story is part of WWDC 2022CNET’s full coverage of Apple’s annual developer conference.

Apple announced a new Safety Check feature for iOS 16 on Monday, targeting those in abusive relationships. This feature allows users to view and reset who has access to location information, as well as passwords, messages, and other apps on an iPhone.

Apple debuted the feature on its annual WWDC event† Phones can become stalking devices in abusive relationships, with features that can be useful in some relationships and provide abusers with dangerous information. That’s especially true when people try to leave their abusers, a time that domestic violence experts say is the most dangerous point for survivors.

“A lot of people share passwords and access to their devices with a partner,” Katie Skinner, Apple’s privacy engineering manager, said at the event Monday. “However, in abusive relationships, this can compromise personal safety and make it more difficult for victims to get help.”

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In addition to disabling location sharing, the Security Check feature resets your privacy rights for apps and protects access to your messages, limiting iMessage and FaceTime sessions to just your device. It also prompts you to reset your Apple ID password, revoking anyone else’s access to your iCloud account and any sensitive data stored there. It also allows you to view your emergency contacts.

Domestic violence experts say survivors should juggling a lot of technical worries as they look for a way out and end up leaving an abusive relationship. Just looking at a website for domestic violence resources can put someone at risk if an abusive partner has access to their browsing history. On the other hand, cutting off access to personal data shared with an abuser can encourage that person to escalate harassment or violence, so survivors need a security plan to decide if and when to revoke access. Finally, location data can help abusers find victims after they leave.

Security Checks can remove access that you have intentionally granted to a partner or family member. Resetting the Apple ID password would also likely disable any tracking software an abusive partner added without your knowledge. Known as stalkerwaretracking software is designed to: intercept location informationmessages and web searches, but it usually only works on iPhones if the abuser has the target’s iCloud password.

Read more: Stalkerware: what to do if you are the target?

Apple partnered with domestic violence prevention agencies to develop the feature, including the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the Women’s Services Network, and the National Center for Victims of Crime.

“In times of crisis, it’s important for many survivors to know who has their location and information,” the National Center for Victims of Crime said in a statement from Apple. “Safety Check helps to return control to survivors.”

Apple has been criticized for the impact its technology can have on domestic violence survivors. For example, the company’s AirTag product is a small, easily concealed location-tracking device that proponents point out could be used to stalk someone. Apple has responded to these complaints by creating an app that let android users detect Nearby AirTags (previously only iPhone users could do this) and also AirTag Users Warn It’s Illegal to stalk people and that Apple will give their personal information that links them to a specific AirTag to the police if asked.

The company has also made changes to the warning sounds the devices emit to warn people that an AirTag is nearby, with the aim of making them more useful to people who may be targeted by an unwanted device.

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