Apple has added a new banner alert in iOS 14 that prevents an application from being blocked from the clipboard and therefore lets users know if they are able to read the contents of the clipboard. This is part of iOS 14’s privacy control, and followed an investigation from MySpace earlier this year that drew attention to the issue.
In the current iOS beta seed, this warning appears after any paste operation. In principle it seems subtle. However, many popular applications actively examine the clipboard to perform some smart actions. For example, a Reddit client checks the Apollo clipboard to see if the user has copied the Reddit link and suggests taking it right to the app. This means the banner will appear as soon as the app is launched …
Some ad networks used in the apps spy on the clipboard for tracking reasons and iOS 14 may now alert you that it is running.
Although in most cases something unpleasant is not happening. Most of the applications that have access to the clipboard autonomously are trying to be as helpful as Apollo. Another example is browser applications like Google Chrome that check the clipboard when you go to the URL field for the “Paste and Go” option. Many text editing applications automatically pre-fill a blank document with clipboard content if there is a string of clipboard text.
Many banners appearing from the top of the screen can quickly become annoying and there is no way to turn them off (as opposed to other privacy permissions like Bluetooth access where only the alert dialog appears once).
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The good news, however, is that Apple has developed iOS 14 pasteboard APIs to help reduce the amount of paste notifications displayed on a clipboard.
In previous iOS releases, the only way to know what kind of text information was on the clipboard was to copy it and check it once it was accessed. You can ask ‘Is this a string of text’ so the apps are only interested in strings and not images, for example but you can never understand what the text represents.
Remember, any access banner triggers the warning. This is where the new API will come from.
When updated to use this new feature, an application may ask the clipboard for the type of textual data it contains … without actually having access to it. For example, an application might find out if the clipboard contains a URL or a web search.
What this means is that the Apollo app can ask the system if the clipboard is written to look like a URL. If this is the case, you can copy the Apollo content and switch to the appropriate page in the app. This will trigger the banner notification.
However, if the test is incorrect and there is no URL on the pasteboard, the Apollo application can do nothing. It happens silently without triggering any banners. Basically, updating applications will reduce the number of false positives.
Since AIPS was only added to iOS 14, developers will have to wait until the fall until they can actually implement this functionality.
The new API certainly doesn’t address every use, but it does address the primary reasons why legitimate applications seek access to the clipboard without user action. If uninterrupted banners still prove annoying, it’s possible that Apple has added a setting to hide them on a per-app basis in future OS releases.
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