Smart Phone Permissions Explained

Have you ever looked through the permissions on your smart phone and wondered what they mean? What exactly are "Body Sensors?" What does "Background App Refresh" do? 

While you are reviewing the applications on your phone, you can decide if you want a particular app to have access to a specific setting.

What permissions are dangerous?

You may start to look at these settings and be overwhelmed by the permissions available. How do you even know where to start? Our suggestion for which permissions are the most dangerous are those that could potentially affect your privacy or the device's operation. These include those permissions related to accessing the camera, contacts, location, microphone, sensors, SMS, and storage. We marked some of them with an “*” below to help prioritize what you should look at first.


Body Sensors*

Allows access to your health data and step count, from paired heart-rate monitors, fitness trackers, and other sensors.


Allows apps to read, create, edit, or delete your calendar events.


Allows apps to take photos and record video.


Allows apps to read, create, or edit your contact list, as well as access the list of all accounts used on your device.


Allows apps to access your location using GPS for high accuracy, and cellular data and Wi-Fi for approximate accuracy. Using both location systems together yields the highest accuracy.


Allows apps to record audio, including for video.


Allows apps to access your phone number and network info. This permission is required for making calls and VoIP (voice over IP), voicemail, call redirect and editing call logs.


Allows apps to read, receive, and send MMS and SMS (text) messages.


Allows apps to read and write files to your phone’s internal and external storage.


The following settings are available by opening Settings and tapping on "Privacy".

Location Services*

Allows apps to access your approximate location based on GPS, Bluetooth, and crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and tower locations.


Allows applications to read, write, and update your contacts.


Allows applications to access your calendars and create and/or update events.


Allows apps to read and write reminders.


iOS photo permissions have a number of settings that can be applied on a per-app basis.

  • Read and Write - Allows the app to read and write photos.
  • Add Photos Only - Allows the app to add photos, but not read or access existing photos.
  • Never - Blocks access to photos completely

Photos themselves may contain additional information, such as where and when the photo was taken, and the depth of field.

This is a separate permission from accessing the camera to take photos.

Bluetooth Sharing

Allows apps to share data via Bluetooth, possibly even when you're not using the app directly.


Allows apps to access the microphone, possibly even while the app is in the background.

Speech Recognition

Allows apps to access speech recognition.  Speech recognition then sends recorded voice to Apple to process the request.


Allows apps to access the camera to take photos.  This is a separate permission from accessing the photo library itself.


Allows apps to access your Health data. 
Health data permissions have a number of settings that can be applied on a per-app basis.
  • Read – Allows the app to read health data, but not write or edit.
  • Read and Write – Allows the app to read, write, or edit health data.
  • Never – Blocks access to health data completely.


Allows apps to view, edit, create configurations or other data for all HomeKit devices you have configured.

Media & Apple Music

Allows apps to access your Apple music and video activity, and your media library.

Motion & Fitness*

Allows apps to access sensor data including body motion, step count, stairs climbed, and the magnetometer and barometer as well.

Additional iOS Settings

In addition to the settings above, each app also has the following settings which can be accessed by opening Settings, then tapping on the name of the app.

Siri & Search

Allow information from the app to be used in Search, Look Up, Keyboard and Lock Screen. Siri may learn from and make suggestions base on how you use the app.


Control how and when apps can send notifications.

Background App Refresh

Allows the app to retrieve data while running in the background when on Wi-Fi or cellular.

Cellular Data

Allows apps to use cellular data. Cellular data can be turned off entirely in the Settings under Cellular.