With Apple's consistent focus on privacy, iOS 14 now lets you know every time an app checks the clipboard or pastes something you copied form another app. This isn't the first time Apple has called out apps that snoop on your information. Previously, in iOS 13, Apple let you know when an app was trying to track your location, even when you were no longer using it, giving you the option to allow it to continue, or to block location tracking.
Copy and paste is one of the most basic functions of a user interface, and probably one you almost never really think about. You probably use it multiple times a day, copying a URL from your web browser, a note, or a password. Chances are, you've never once thought about the fact that when you copy something onto your virtual clipboard, that information is available to other apps, otherwise, it would be impossible to "paste" it there.
Except, that's not the only way apps can get access to your clipboard. In iOS, for example, they can look at your clipboard when you launch an app. Until now, this was happening multiple times a day without you ever knowing about it, but with iOS 14, Apple has started calling out apps that snoop on your clipboard.
That doesn't mean that some apps don't have a good reason. Sometimes, like in the case of Flipboard, that's a handy feature so that you can share articles you like online. Flipboard, to its credit, even acknowledges it when you launch the app with a red banner at the top of the screen.
Other apps aren't so forthcoming. In many cases, it's not clear why they would even need to look at your clipboard. Take The Weather Channel app. I can't think of a reason why that app would ever need to know that I previously copied a link into an email. It does, and thanks to the iOS 14 beta on my iPhone 11 Pro, a banner appears when I launch the app to let me know it's happening.
It turns out, there are a lot of apps that do this on a regular basis. A report from Ars Technica has a list that includes news apps like The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, along with a handful of travel apps such as Hotels.com. It also includes TikTok, which appears to be one of the worst offenders. (TikTok says it is rolling out an update that will no longer peek at the clipboard).
If it wasn't obvious, this is a pretty big deal for a few reasons. The first, and probably the most obvious, is that if you're not actually pasting something into the app, why does it need to see what's in your clipboard? And, once it does, what is it doing with that information?
Which leads to the second, and maybe more important consideration, which is that your clipboard often contains fairly personal information that you might not be cool sharing with TikTok, The Weather Channel, or The New York Times. And, as the Ars Technica article points out, if you use Universal Clipboard via iCloud, those apps are able to access anything you've copied or cut to the clipboard on any of your devices.
While it isn't possible right now to turn off the ability for apps to check your clipboard, it's worth noting the ones that seem to do it for no reason so that you can at least make an informed decision about whether that's something you want on your device. After all, an app that snoops on your privacy without even letting you know might be an app worth cutting for good.