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A conspiracy theory being spread on Facebook and other social media platforms this week claims that iOS 14 widgets are actually serving as key loggers, tracking everything you type on your iPhone. This is unequivocally not true, and there are technical limitations and protections in place that prevent widgets from accessing your data.
The viral post on Facebook has been screenshotted and shared to other social media platforms. On Twitter, a tweet with a screenshot of the original Facebook post has over 7,000 retweets and 8,000 likes. Screenshots have also gone viral on Instagram.
The Facebook post comes from an iPhone user who claims to have noticed that their “keyboard would lag and wouldn’t show the characters” as they were being typed, as well as other issues like app crashes and generally laggy performance.
The Facebook post also cites the security code autofill feature of iOS as evidence the app is tracking what they type.
- iOS 12’s new security code auto-fill feature works
Another piece of misinformation gaining social media traction is that iOS 14 and/or home screen widgets are responsible for compromised passwords. The misconception here is that a lot of iOS 14 users are receiving a push notification upon updating informing them that their passwords may have been involved in a data breach.
The passwords were likely compromised in a data breach that occurred before you even installed iOS 14. Apple added data breach notifications to the built-in iOS password manager as a way to make users more informed about the security of their various online accounts.
- iOS 14: iCloud Keychain now alerts users about leaked passwords
The Facebook user and other social posts all jump to the conclusion that these pieces of evidence are “all signs of a key logger.” This is not true, as it is technically impossible for widgets to access your keyboard data or virtually any other data about you.
How iOS 14 widgets work
iOS 14 home screen widgets have a variety of limitations and protections in place for things like privacy and battery life. These protections are also why you might notice widgets don’t continuously update but rather at predefined intervals.
Widgets in iOS 14 are not full-blown applications; in fact, Apple has went as far as to say they aren’t even “mini-apps.” Instead, the WidgetKit developer framework provides a limited set of tools that developers can tap into when designing and developing their home screen widgets.
Essentially, widgets run in the background very briefly to update the display content at a pre-defined interval. Once the content has been updated, the background process is killed entirely, ensuring that there is no way a widget can gather any data continuously.
Widgets are not mini-apps, so think through a glanceable experience for your user and use timelines, the concept of reloads, and intelligence to create the perfect experience on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS.
Widgets use SwiftUI views to display their content. WidgetKit renders the views on your behalf in a separate process. As a result, your widget extension is not continually active, even if the widget is onscreen.
If widgets were allowed to run continuously without restrictions, there would not only be privacy implications but also a dramatic impact on battery life and performance. All of these reasons are why Apple put these limitations in place with WidgetKit.
In fact, generally speaking, sandboxing protection within iOS also prevents any sort of key logger application, regardless of whether or not widgets are used.
- Apple Developer WidgetKit documentation
- Building Widgets Using WidgetKit and SwiftUI
- Getting started with WidgetKit – Swift by Sundell
The viral Facebook post particularly mentions Widgetsmith as the cause of these issues, but again, there are absolutely no facts behind these accusations.
I’ve seen a number of references to an article being circulated on Facebook that apps like Widgetsmith must include key loggers because of keyboard issues experienced after installing iOS 14. For Widgetsmith I can state categorically and absolutely that this is not true.
Leaving for a moment that I don’t think that is technically possible for a widget to read the keyboard. Widgetsmith was built from the ground up with complete privacy in mind and collects essentially no data about its users.
If you are experiencing laggier performance after installing iOS 14, there are several possible explanations. One of the most common causes of slow iPhone performance is a low amount of available storage.
It’s also important to remember that iOS 14 is a brand new release, and there are likely to be bugs and performance issues. Apple released iOS 14.0.1 with bug fixes last week, so make sure that you’ve updated to that for the best possible experience.
Finally, laggy keyboard performance has been one of the most common iOS 14 complaints since beta testing started in June. The keyboard isn’t laggy because of so-called key logger apps; it’s glitchy because of system-level bugs.
Trust the privacy protections that Apple has put in place and customize your home screen to your heart’s content.