You Can Finally Control Which Contacts an App Can Access on Your iPhone


iPhones have been pretty good about allowing you control over how much data apps can access. You can force apps not to track your data and stop them from accessing your location, microphone, and camera unnecessarily. But before iOS 18, whenever any app asked for access to your contacts, you had a choice between either letting it scrape your entire address book or denying it access to any contacts at all. That has now changed, with the latest OS update letting you grant apps access to just a few contacts.

What happens when apps access all your contacts

A screenshot of the contacts privacy permissions page in iOS 18.

Credit: Pranay Parab

On the internet, a rule of thumb is that if you let apps access your data, they will try to scrape pretty much all of it and store it on remote servers until they no longer need it. Of course, there are apps that respect your privacy and stay away from unnecessary data collection. However, some of the world’s most popular apps aren’t among them. 

Let’s talk about social media apps. Under the guise of connecting you with your friends, apps such as Gmail, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and many others will ask you to grant them access to your address book. Once you’ve granted them access to that data, you can bet that your entire address book has been scraped and the social media companies know exactly who you’re connected to. This can lead to some nice outcomes, such as connecting you with a long-lost childhood friend who you cherish today, but it can also be problematic. 

The people in your address book have not consented to having their data shared with companies that sell your data to advertisers, but those advertisers may now have their emails or phone numbers, plus have a rough idea of who they’re connected to. Even if you really only wanted to look for a select few friends on social media, now everyone in your address book will probably be recommended to each other as connections, without their consent. That ex you don’t ever want to talk to will probably come across your profile, or vice versa. 

This is why it’s better to limit outside access to your data as much as possible. If you’re going to use an app to chat with just a couple of people, you should have the freedom to share only those contacts with that app. Luckily, iPhone users can now do that with ease.

How to selectively share contact data in iOS 18

A screenshot of the contacts privacy permissions page in iOS 18.

Credit: Pranay Parab

The best way to let apps access only some of your contacts is via iOS 18’s Settings app. To do this, first install the iOS 18 beta using these instructions. Ideally, you should install it on a backup device, as using a beta OS can introduce instability to your phone.

With iOS 18 installed, go to Settings > Privacy & Security > Contacts. You’ll see a list of apps. Go through this list, select any app you want to limit contact information on, and tap Limited Access. On the new page, tap the Edit button in the top-right corner. You’ll now see a list of all your contacts. Select the ones you want to let the app access, then tap Done.

Alternatively, go to Settings > Apps, select any app, and tap the Contacts button on the next page. It’s simpler, but this button only appears once an app has already requested access to your contacts (even if you’ve denied it permission to access them). On the Contacts privacy page, select Limited Access and follow the same steps mentioned above.

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