Most of you who use an iOS device probably use Safari as your main web browser despite the vast number of third-party alternatives available in the App Store, but how often do you think about the privacy of your information when you’re using it?
Apple gives users a number of privacy options for using Safari on your iOS device to keep your information safe, and in this tutorial, we aim to make you more familiar with them and talk a little about how to use them.
Staying private: the constant struggle
It seems as though privacy is one of the top concerns of every iOS user these days. Despite Apple’s ongoing attempts to keep user information encrypted and safe, it’s still possible for your information to be shared unknowingly or unwillingly. You should always be wary of what could be collecting your information and tracking you; especially when you’re browsing the internet.
Although there are tons of holes in software that can be called security issues, we are leaning away from security in this post and will mostly be talking about privacy and how you can use iOS’ built-in settings to help protect yourself from data harvesting and unwanted information sharing.
Privacy 101: using private browsing mode
One of the easiest things you can do to protect your privacy is use private browsing mode. In private browsing mode, websites are limited on the information that they’re allowed to track, and none of your browsing history or login information is saved, which prevents other users of the same device from seeing what you just did during your browsing session.
Turning on private browsing mode is very straightforward and can be accomplished in these simple steps:
Step 1: Launch the Safari app and tap on the Tabs button at the bottom right of the app.
Step 2: With all your open tabs in tab view, tap on the “Private” button at the bottom left of the app.
Step 3: The Safari interface should turn from light to dark, indicating that you’re in private browsing mode.
Configuring your Safari privacy settings
In the Settings app under Safari’s settings, you’ll find many different options for tweaking your level of privacy while using the Safari web browser. Among the features you can configure here are AutoFill preferences, frequently visited sites, pop-up blockers, content blockers, tracking, cookies, and more.
All of these settings have an impact on your privacy, and it’s a good idea to configure these settings responsibly.
Here are some tips we can give you in regards to these options.
Safari Suggestions: Apple says search queries and other related data will be sent to Apple to show suggestions to you based on your usage. If you don’t want Apple snooping, no matter how anonymous it may be, turn Safari Suggestions off.
Frequently Visited Sites: If you don’t want a paper trail of the websites you visit often because other users may use your iOS device, turn this feature off.
Block Pop-ups: Pop-ups are typically a nuisance and while they don’t necessarily impact your privacy, it’s possible for a pop-up to execute potentially malicious scripts when opened, which could put your data at risk. Keep this feature turned on.
Content Blockers: Many ads are harmless, but on some websites, ads can actually collect information. Use these responsibly, but don’t block harmless ads on websites that need them because then you’re hurting the website.
Do Not Track: This feature requests websites that normally track your activity on the site for the next time you visit to not track you at all. Since it’s up to the website to honor this request, this option is hit or miss, but enable it anyways if privacy is important to you.
Block Cookies: These aren’t the tasty cookies you’d eat at grandma’s house; these are little files that track your sign-in information and keep you logged into websites. For a more secure and private experience, consider limiting cookies, but remember, some websites require them.
Fraudulent Website Warning: In some cases, Safari can actually let you know when a website you’re about to visit is a known fraudulent website (ie. a phishing site). You should keep this option on just in case you wander off to one of these sites that might try to steal information from you.
Clear History and Website Data: This feature can be used frequently if you’re not using private browsing mode to delete your browsing history and browsing data, including cookies. It’s a good idea to do this every so often if you have multiple device users.
Limiting Safari’s access
The last major thing we can give advice on is limiting what you allow Safari to access on your device.
Safari will request your location for different kinds of information as you’re using it, depending on what you might be doing. For example, when using a mapping website, Safari may ask for your location, and while using a photo-uploading website, Safari may ask for access to your photo library, and so on.
The ultimate goal in this section is to limit Safari to what you actually need it to access. If you don’t need Safari or any websites that you might visit using your photos and videos, then disable this feature; the same goes for your location. This will prevent unwanted information sharing.
To limit what Safari can access, follow these steps:
Location Services: Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Safari Websites, and choose whether websites can access your location “Never” or “While Using the App.” Never means they’ll never have access, and While Using the App means that as long as the Safari app is running, websites can access your location until the app is closed.
Photos: Go to Settings > Privacy > Photos and turn off Safari if you don’t want to allow websites to access your photo library. This means photo and video-uploading websites (not apps) will be unable to access your photo library.
For the most part, Safari shouldn’t be asking for very much access to most of the other privacy settings offered in this preferences pane, but if you do see Safari in any of those subcategories, you can also turn Safari off for those features as well for additional privacy.
But what about my web apps?
If you use Google Maps, Tumblr, Gmail, or another service in Safari, then consider downloading the App Store apps instead of accessing these services through Safari so that you can disable location services and photos access for the Safari app itself.
Remember that apps themselves may be safer because they’re programmed to do just one thing, while Safari can have you accessing the entire internet with your specific privacy settings that you may have tailored around just one website. Most of these apps are offered free of cost in the App Store and the native-coded apps typically run more smoothly than a web app does, so it’s a win/win.
Privacy is important, and it goes hand-in-hand with security and keeping your information from getting in the wrong hands. By keeping up on your personal settings, you can prevent your information from being tracked.
If you found this guide helpful, or have any other privacy suggestions for mobile Safari, share them in the comments below!