Apple’s New Account Deletion Rule Is Great for User Privacy

No more hold queues

Key Takeaways

  • Any app that allows account signup will have to offer account deletion.
  • No more searching for carefully hidden account-deactivation pages on websites.
  • Deleting unused accounts is good personal data hygiene.
Someone using a social media app on a smartphone.

S O C I A L . C U T / Unsplash

If an iPhone app lets you create an account, it soon will have to let you delete it, too. 

Starting January 31, 2022, Apple will require that apps let you delete any accounts created with that same app. This protects your private data and effectively blocks companies that won't let you easily cancel subscriptions. But there's a lot more to it than that. Apple's new account deletion policy looks simple, but changes a lot. 

"You never know when or how an old account might fall victim to a breach or what consequences may result. If you used the same password across multiple accounts, one leaked password could expose you in places you might not expect," Michael X. Heiligenstein, publisher of the cybersecurity and privacy website Firewall Times, told Lifewire via email.

"And harder-to-change details, such as your address, phone number, or answers to security questions, can also be used to hijack your identity and break into your finances."

Benefits to You

Did you ever sign up for a subscription in an app or on a website and then decide to cancel? Sometimes it's easy. Other times, you have to call a human on a telephone and tell them you want to cancel. And it's not just dodgy companies that do this. The New York Times pulls this trick, and those folks on the phones do not want to let you go.

"You never know when or how an old account might fall victim to a breach or what consequences may result."

"Those are companies that use horrible techniques, like forcing a user to call them and talk to their sales guy to cancel an account. If they can sign up a new user without a phone call, why not cancel the user without a phone call?" Vinay Sahni, co-founder of customer-relationship software company Enchant, told Lifewire via email. 

Apple's new rules do not pertain to subscriptions (it's already simple to unsubscribe from any app in your App Store settings), but our example illustrates how hard it can be to delete an account. You might have to call. More likely, you'll have to dig around on a website, following links designed to route you away from the account-deletion page. Often, the best way to find the right page is to Google it and follow a helpful link from a public forum.

Apple's policy cuts this nonsense out for good. If you no longer want your account, you'll be able to cancel it from the same app you used to sign up. Easy. 

Security and Privacy

Unless it's very simple to cancel an account, most of us will just abandon it, then delete the app and forget we ever used it. But this leaves your signup data in the hands of the company running the service—or any company that buys it in the future. For instance, Facebook bought Instagram, and when Google purchased Fitbit, it got all that sweet movement data.

And when (not if) the new company has a data breach, your personal info goes with it. You may use a different password for every account, but perhaps you use your real date of birth, home address, and so on.

A smartphone app selected to show the 'Remove App' option.

Dimitri Karastelev / Unsplash

Apple's policy change certainly reflects its strong stance on privacy, but the world is moving in this direction already. "Developers already have to have data deletion policies and procedures in place because of the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation]," says Sahni.

Other than having to add the code for deleting accounts, is there any downside for the developers? 

"If you believe privacy is a human right, the case is even more clear—why shouldn't a user be in charge of their own personal information? The only downsides I can see would land on companies that sell or repurpose their inactive users' data for profit," says Heiligenstein.

Another reason to limit account deletions is that it pads user numbers. A company hoping to go public wants as many "active" user accounts as possible.

It's hard to see this change as anything but a win for the user. There seems to be almost no downside, other than maybe accidentally deleting your account. But that's a small price to pay for narrowing your data footprint on the internet.

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