TechCrunch claims that many iPhone apps "record your screen secretly". Is it true? Well, yes, kind of but their recording ability is limited. Apple is now tightening these apps and demanding more transparency.
An app can only record your activity in the app
Let's first make it clear: iPhone and iPad apps can't record everything you do on the phone screen. An app can only record what happens within the app itself.
In other words, even if an app tries to record everything it can, it can only record the swipes, taps and data you enter in that app. The Expedia app was one of the few singles out here. So, if you use Expedia, the app can record everything you swipe, tap and type into the Expedia app. But when you leave the app, it cannot see anything you do on your homepage or anything you enter in another app. Apple's iOS operating system would prevent apps from recording your screen all the time, even if they wanted to.
The only person who can record everything on your screen is with the screen recording tool built into iPhones. Apps can't access it.
App developer monitors their own apps
With the scary headline removed, we can see what happens: Apps from many large companies monitor what you do in the app itself.
It should not be a big surprise that this is possible. When using an app like Air Canada, Hollister or Expedia, that app can monitor everything you press and swipe in the app itself. It can monitor how many seconds you spend and look at a particular screen. It can also record text that you type into that app. For example, if you write a credit card number in the app before you change it, delete it and write a new credit card number, the app can capture the first credit card number. After all, you wrote it in the app, and the app can monitor everything that happens in the app itself.
None of this wonders the bigger problem: That companies do this without clearly revealing it to their customers. But you should be aware that even if a company says it does not do so in the app, an app can monitor everything that happens within itself and you have no way of knowing. Apple is now trying to stop this without knowing it, which would at least pause some software developers.
Websites do this, for
This behavior is not just limited to iPhone apps. While visiting a website, everything you do on that site can be monitored. It is often also.
Websites can see what you clicked on, how long you spent an ad and how much time you spent on different parts of the page. If you write information to a field on the site, a script running on the site can capture the text and send it to its servers – even if you have not pressed Enter or sent the text.
For example, this is used in online chat interfaces. The support staff at the other end can often see exactly what you are writing when you write it – even before you send the message. It is designed to help accelerate the support experience.
As with apps on your iPhone, websites can only see what you do on the site itself. A tracking service may track you on multiple websites if each site has chosen to embed the script. But a website that you have opened in a web browser tab cannot see what you do on your webpage's web pages in another browser tab, or even that you have your web bank website open.
Real News: Apps Recording Your "Session"
The real news here is that app developers monitor the use of their apps in very detailed ways.
TechCrunch covered apps that use the "Glassbox" software app developers can embed into their apps. It uses "session replay" technology that lets a developer record and capture everything you do in the app. This includes everything you tap, swipe and type in the app. The developer can "play" your use of the app, which is especially useful if you encounter a problem. They can also use these data in summary to see how people use the app and what features they use.
As TechCrunch notes, App Analyst recently shows that Air Canada did not properly "mask" session replay credit card details and passport numbers to people who played the session. Air Canada employees with session data may see your private information. It's bad, but the threat is limited to employees of the company with whom you already share data.
Apple will require transparency
Apple has now noticed and will require apps to gain user access before collecting this type of data. "Apps must request explicit user consent and provide a clear visual indication when recording, logging or otherwise recording user activity," Apple said in an email to TechCrunch.
So are programs really recorded what you do?  Some apps have recorded what you do, but only within the specific app. Expedia can record what you do in the Expedia app, for example – but that's it. Although private data is not properly protected and people can see it, the threat is limited to company employees who built the app.
Apple enters and demands that developers become less secretive about this type of tracking. But the programs still monitor many of the things you can do within them, even if they have to request permission first. It is more likely that developers simply will not collect as much data. Maybe they can't "play" your session, but they will carefully know what features you use.
Heck, by default, even collects Apple's iOS operating system information about your "use" and sends this information to Apple. This is quite common. The big news here is that apps are secretive about it and collect more data than normal.