If you've upgraded to macOS Catalina, no doubt you've noticed that you get lots of dialogs asking you to allow apps to access different parts of your Mac's operating system, it's hardware, to give you notifications, and perhaps to gain access to your contacts, photos, and more. Some of these aren't new, such as this Gatekeeper dialog that ensures that you absolutely want to open that app you downloaded from the website.

You'll see the above when you launch a new app that you have downloaded , but you may also see it if a malicious app tries to launch something you're unaware of; hence the dialog.

We've gotten used to these dialogs: they have been a part of macOS for several years. But what we may not be accustomed to is several other dialogs that alert us and get us for permission; many are new in macOS Catalina.


Under Catalina, every app that could ever wish to send notifications has to ask your permission. Which means that once you upgrade, so when you install new apps, you will need to decide upon each app whether you need to potentially allow notifications. Because for many apps, say, a calendar app or reminder checklist, it's normal to get notifications. However i have many productivity tools that have asked about notifications, and I find this a bit odd.

Notifications are managed in System Preferences > Notifications, and you may turn them off entirely, or choose which types of notifications you are willing to receive.

Safari per-site download alerts

If you download a file from the website, you will need to grant Safari permission to do this. This feature was added shortly before Catalina was released, included in Safari 13. This is an excellent thing, since it prevents drive-by downloads; downloads that are initiated by JavaScript, which are generally malware.

You'll find settings for downloads in Safari's Preferences, around the Websites tab. You can turn off these requests if you wish, but that's most likely not advisable. One you approve downloads for a site, Safari remembers this, unless you return to the preferences to change the setting.

Special permissions

If you go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy, you'll see 16 categories for permission to gain access to certain software and hardware elements on your Mac. They include location services; the digital camera and microphone; your contacts, calendars, and reminders; full disk access and access to your Documents and Downloads folders; and Accessibility, which is a catch-all for apps that may \”control your computer.\”

Some categories are simple to understand, such as contacts, calendars, and reminders, or camera and microphone. You know why certain apps wish to access these. I use a third-party calendar app, so it naturally needs access to the first three categories. And when I use Skype, it needs to be able to utilize my camera and microphone.

It makes sense to require users to explicitly grant access to these categories. Your contacts, calendars, and reminders contain personal information about you. And your camera and microphone could be used to spy on you.

One from the stranger categories is Screen Recording. There are screen recording apps, for example Screenflow, that you can use to create screencasts, but there are also some other apps that need to access screen recording for various reasons.

Bartender doesn't record your screen, but in to access certain information about your Mac, such as what's within the menu bar, this is what it needs to request.

Some of these permissions need a lot of work for the consumer. You can't just set all of them with a simple dialog; in some cases, you may need to visit the Accessibility section of the Privacy preferences and manually add apps, then quit and relaunch them. And if users avoid this correctly, then some apps won't run. Here is one example of the developer needing a lengthy explanation from the process for that app Moom. From the developer's perspective, it isn't exactly ideal to need to walk a user through a lot of steps before they are able to make use of your software.

Note that you'll only see these Accessibility requests for apps that are not in the Mac App Store, or for Mac App Store apps that are not sandboxed. Currently, brand new apps should be sandboxed-this is a special way of limiting their access-but some older apps have been allowed to be updated without sandboxing if they're updated just to fix bugs, to not add new features.

Partial and Full Disk Access

New in Catalina is the requirement of apps to ask to access certain folders, for example Desktop, Documents, Downloads, yet others, including any external drives. These fall into two broader categories: Files and Folders, and Full Disk Access. Apps that need Full Disk Access include antivirus apps, backup apps, FTP apps, Dropbox, and, curiously, Apple's own Terminal app. Apps that require more limited access appear to be those that can both read files. Apps that access your photos should also ask permission, although I have a quantity of photo editing apps that appear to operate fine without this explicit permission and do not seem to need use of files and folders either.

What I discovered is that for many apps that I had on my Mac before upgrading to Catalina, these new permissions aren't always required. I deleted one such app then redownloaded it, and also the new copy asked to access my Downloads folder, which the previous copy hadn't requested, however it still didn't ask permission to access my photos.

Does all this provide more security, or simply inspire complacency?

It's undeniable that lots of these limitations enhance security, however when there are so many dialogs, they can also unintentionally encourage complacency. Users might just click Suitable for every dialog they see so they're not bothered. Ironically, Apple mocked Windows Vista's overwhelming permissions requests in 2007, but twelve years later, macOS Catalina has actually ended up pretty similar.

It's useful to understand why you're seeing all these alerts, and not just accept them blindly. And when you accidentally allow an app access support of the Mac whenever you didn't intend to, go into System Preferences where one can remove this access.

How can I find out more?

Each week on the Intego Mac Podcast, we discuss the most recent Apple news as well as security and privacy topics-this week, in episode 107, we discuss the macOS Catalina dialog fatigue plus much more. Be sure to sign up for be sure you never miss the most recent episode.

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