Apple will now provide users a way to manage which applications have permission to access their contact information, as part of a new privacy control panel that's coming in iOS 6.
The feature comes with a new privacy pop-up that asks whether users want to give a particular application access to contacts, as pointed out by MacRumors today.
Back in February, Apple said it would add such a feature as part of a "future software release", though the company did not specify when exactly that would be.
At the company's annual developer conference, earlier this week, Apple took the wraps off iOS 6, to be released later this year. That software was given to developers under a non-disclosure agreement, however, details about what Apple shared during its press conference have since leaked out.
Demands for a specialised address book privacy settings came after the controversy surrounding Path — a popular iOS and Android application — which was found to be collecting user contact information without permission. Path quickly issued an apology on the issue, saying that it was using that data to alert users to when their friends joined the social network. The company then introduced an updated version that required users to opt-in to the feature.
Apple responded by saying "apps that collect or transmit a user's contact data, without their prior permission, are in violation of our guidelines."
The issue was high-profile enough to catch the eye of US lawmakers, which lead to a US House subcommittee sending a letter to Apple, asking why it didn't force app developers to ask users for permission before downloading contact information. A month later, Representative Henry Waxman (D-California) and GK Butterfield (D-North Carolina) posted additional letters that they sent to Apple CEO Tim Cook, as well as to 33 high profile, third-party companies with apps on Apple's iOS platform, asking to "better understand the information collection, and use policies and practices of apps", particularly ones that had a "social element".
There was also a separate, though related, effort by the California's Office of the Attorney General to improve app privacy disclosures. In February, that office got agreements from Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard and Research In Motion to improve the kinds of privacy protections that were going into mobile apps, as part of California's Online Privacy Protection Act.
The new security feature would require more in the way of user interaction to use certain parts of an application, but adds the capability to further precisely limit what types of information are shared with applications. That's especially important after a recent privacy flap by LinkedIn, which last week was discovered to be collecting user calendar entries through its iOS app. That is, if users took advantage of an opt-in feature that lets them view their schedule within the app. Not long before that, Apple came under fire for its privacy controls, which would give developers access to a user's entire photo library through the same user dialog window that requests access to a user's current location.