Privacy is an inalienable right to anyone who owns a computer or mobile device. With so much of your information being so easy to track with today’s technology, it really is an important step in protecting our identities, information, and data from being snooped on or stolen.
In this guide, we’ll take you through several steps to enhance your privacy on your iPhone or iPad by using many of the mobile operating system’s built-in tools.
It goes without saying that if you want privacy on your iOS devices, it’s your responsibility to set it up. Privacy is a huge deal, and without it, you might as well have Big Brother breathing down your neck 24 hours a day because your entire life can be on your smartphone or tablet – whether it’s your messages, GPS navigation, social networking, web searches, or otherwise.
Getting started with privacy in iOS can be a little daunting, even intimidating, and that’s why we’re going to share with you at least 10 things you can do to better improve your overall privacy in iOS.
1. Limit location services
Location Services are one of the most critical pieces of information that your device can take advantage of that can have the biggest impact on your privacy.
Although location services come with many benefits, like GPS navigation, Apple Watch fitness features, Wi-Fi Calling, local weather information, and more, giving too many services access to your location means you never really know how those services are using your location and what they’re doing with your data. This is mostly the case with third-party services requesting your location because Apple is typically very transparent about how your information is used.
Your device’s location services settings can be configured from Settings > Privacy & Security > Location Services, and from here, you can put a stop to unwanted location access so that only selected apps and services can use it.
Here are some tips related to configuring location services on your iPhone, iPad, Mac, or other devices:
- When configuring apps that are allowed to use your location, use the “While Using” option as much as possible rather than “Always” because this way, the app can only use your location when you have the app open and not in the background without your knowledge.
- Set apps that you don’t want using your location to “Never” so that your location is never shared with those services.
- Allow necessary system services – things like Wi-Fi calling, motion calibration & fitness, compass calibration, and Find my iPhone, but disable unwanted system services like frequent locations, share my location, and location-based iAds.
- Enable the Status Bar icon for when your location services are being accessed. This gives you a better understanding of when your location is being drawn, and you’ll be able to tell whether or not you’re doing something that needs your location when you see the icon and can investigate to see what’s doing it.
- Take note of learning the different icons: The solid purple one shows when an app has used your location recently, the solid gray one shows when an app has used your location in the last 24 hours, and the hollow purple one shows when an app is using a geofence. If something doesn’t look right, disable that app immediately.
By fine-tuning these features, which may take multiple attempts of trial and error to get the best happy median between function and privacy, you can help block unwanted location tracking when you use your device for everyday activities.
2. Control Safari’s privacy settings
When it comes to web browsing, Safari is one of the biggest culprits of having your information snooped on when using an iOS device to browse the web. Many websites are coded to track their users and record the information they find. This might include the open tabs you have in your web browser, your login information, or even your location.
Fortunately, Apple gives you a handful of useful options to protect yourself, such as private browsing mode and some configurable settings for fine-tuning Safari’s privacy.
Here are a few tips for increasing your privacy in Safari:
- Use private browsing mode whenever you don’t want your search history kept, and you want your website tracking to be kept to a minimum.
- Limit tracking cookies so that your login information has to be entered manually and so that unwanted websites don’t track you.
- Turn off Safari Suggestions and frequently visited sites so that your web browser isn’t keeping track of the sites you visit regularly and sending the information to Apple for analysis.
- Block pop-ups and use content blockers responsibly so that potentially malicious pop-ups and ads from untrusted websites don’t compromise your privacy and security.
- Limit Safari’s permissions and access to system information and files, such as your location and Photo Library. This prevents unwanted information and file uploads.
- Use apps from the App Store instead of web apps as much as possible so that you can toggle off unnecessary Safari permissions.
With a good blockade of settings configured in your Safari settings, you can keep yourself from being tracked and prevent private information about yourself, as ‘anonymous’ as it may be, from leaking into unwanted hands.
3. Use Touch ID or Face ID for… everything
Touch ID and Face ID are used not only for unlocking your device but also for purchases from the App Store, and depending on the developer of certain apps, such as WhatsApp, Discover Mobile, PayPal, Screens VNC, Transmit, and many others, you can even use Touch ID and Face ID to log into the specific applications themselves, so you’re the only person capable of viewing their data.
According to Apple, your fingerprint and facial data is recorded securely into your iOS device as a mathematical expression, not as an image, and is never uploaded to the internet. Moreover, your fingerprint is stored in a “Secure Enclave,” as Apple calls it, meaning no other parts of your device’s hardware can access your fingerprint data, preventing hackers from reverse engineering your security information.
Here are some tips for using Touch ID and Face ID:
- Enable Touch ID and Face ID for logging into your device. Not only is it secure, but it’s faster than entering a passcode.
- Use Touch ID and Face ID for App Store downloads and purchases – once again, this is much faster than entering a password, and you’re still secure by using it.
- Allow Touch ID and Face ID whenever a third-party app offers to let you log in with it – not only is it faster than entering a password, but you are also using a secure platform and protecting potentially personal information.
- Use the fewest number of fingers possible when setting up Touch ID. Apple notes that there is a 1 in 50,000 chance that a small portion of someone’s fingerprint could match a small portion of one of yours, and by having fewer fingerprints registered, you reduce the chance one of those fingers is going to match.
- Don’t set up additional faces in Face ID for people you do not trust.
4. Limit ad tracking
Some apps support ads, and Apple has a function built into iOS that shows you ads that are tailored to your specific interests.
There’s really no clear-cut understanding of what kind of information Apple tracks to figure out what kind of iAds you’ll be shown based on your “interests.” So the best thing to do is keep iAds from being able to track you, so that your private information isn’t being shared with anyone:
- Launch the Settings app and navigate to Privacy & Security.
- Scroll down and tap Apple Advertising.
- Turn off Personalized Ads.
5. Set a reasonable auto-lock timer
It may be annoying when you’re using your iPhone or iPad, and suddenly your device’s display dims or the device locks on you from inactivity, but this is actually both a security and privacy feature that is good to take advantage of because it prevents others from getting into your device when you leave it unlocked somewhere and going through all of your personal files, messages, social media, and more.
The auto-lock feature is accessed under Settings > Display & Brightness > Auto-Lock, and from here, you can choose after what time period your device will lock automatically to protect your personal information from nosy people who like to snoop. Keep this setting short, sweet, and to the point; pro-longing auto-lock just gives someone with malicious intent more time to get to your device and snoop before it locks itself to protect your personal information.
6. Use a VPN on public networks
A VPN, or virtual private network, is used to tunnel all of your incoming and outgoing internet information to a remote server where someone with the intention of snooping on your internet activity would have a lot more trouble accomplishing the task than if you just left yourself wide open on an insecure public Wi-Fi network.
Here are some tips for using VPN:
- Free VPNs typically collect anonymous data, hence why they’re free, but anonymous data might be better than allowing someone else on the same public Wi-Fi network to potentially steal important login information from right over the wireless network.
- Free VPNs may also throttle your speeds or impose data caps, but it’s still better than being snooped on.
- Paid or custom VPNs are typically more secure and offer higher speeds and unlimited data usage, so we recommend these services if you can afford them or have the knowledge to set one up from home.
- When you turn on a VPN, wait patiently until the “VPN” icon shows in the Status Bar. You are not browsing the web privately until you see this icon; otherwise, your VPN may still be trying to connect.
VPNs work over Wi-Fi and cellular networks, so experiment with what you want to use and keep your web browsing secure. If you ever need to remove one to install another one, read our tutorial on how to do just that.
Keep in mind that many free VPNs will still track you in some way, shape, or form, so you should be wary of what kind of VPN you choose to subscribe to for privacy reasons. Some of the best and most secure VPNs are paid, such as Private Internet Access, which is under $5 per month, depending on the subscription that you choose. Nevertheless, something is better than nothing!
7. Allow your text and audio messages to expire
One of the really cool features of iOS is how you can have your text messages and audio messages in the Messages app expire automatically after a predetermined amount of time.
Although this was originally implemented as a space-saving feature to prevent old Messages app content from using up large amounts of storage space (especially on 16GB devices), it can also be used as a privacy feature by regularly cleaning out your messaging history.
Each of these types of messages that can be sent or received in the Messages app can be configured independently, and they all have different options. Here are some tips regarding those options:
- Audio messages only give you the option of expiring after 2 minutes or never – if you’re a privacy freak, you’ll want to choose 2 minutes so that after you watch/hear the content, they’ll be removed from your chat history.
- Text messages can be set to expire after 30 days, one year, or never – if you care about your privacy and your storage space, you might select 30 days, but if you want to keep a paper trail of the conversation history to reference later on, auto-deleting messages may not be for you. Tread carefully.
- When something “expires,” it is removed from that device; forever. You can’t get it back. You can, however, save media you receive before it expires, such as video files that you receive in the Messages app that you want to save to your Camera Roll.
By keeping your messaging history flushed every so often, you will prevent anyone who gets into your device from being able to read all of your messages and see the media that you swap between friends, families, and co-workers.
8. Limit sending diagnostic data
Apple wants your valuable personal information to help improve its products. This means telling Apple every time you have an error message or something moves too slowly for Apple’s tastes, and this also means giving Apple a snapshot of everything you were doing at the time of the problem and perhaps even where you were in cases where diagnostic information is collected in the Maps app.
Under Settings > Privacy & Security > Analytics & Improvements, you can view whether or not you’re sharing your diagnostic data with Apple. When you set up your iOS device for the first time, you’re asked whether or not you want to share data, and if you choose yes, “Share iPhone & Watch Analytics” will be enabled here.
If you don’t want Apple snooping on your device usage, even if it is for the greater good, you can choose to disable sharing of your analytics from this menu, and Apple will stop collecting anonymous usage information from you.
Apple says location may be used in diagnostic information for a variety of purposes, one being determining how strong a cellular signal is in a particular location. On the other hand, no personally identifiable information is included in the data logs because it’s “removed before they’re sent to Apple,” which raises the eyebrow of who is doing the removal and whether or not they could be snooping.
For this reason, I always just turn this feature off. My device works good enough, and there’s really no reason for me to be sending off diagnostic information that could blow my privacy.
9. Use Advanced Data Protection
iCloud stores your notes, files, photos, device backups, and much more. To enable end-to-end encryption for your iCloud data, you should enable Advanced Data Protection from Settings > your name > iCloud > Advanced Data Protection > Turn On Advanced Data Protection. This will ensure your file in iCloud are protected even if there is a data breach in the cloud.
10. Hide notification content from the Lock Screen
iOS shows all your notifications on the Lock Screen, as well as Notification Center, but the Lock Screen is different because no form of security is needed to get there. This means that the content of your text messages and emails will display freely on the Lock Screen, giving even someone who doesn’t know your passcode the ability to snoop. Fortunately, iOS comes with a way to prevent this.
- How to hide text & email notification previews from the Lock Screen
- Hiding Facebook Messenger notification previews from the Lock Screen
With privacy and security working together to give you a sense of immunity from judgment and information theft, taking into account all of these different settings and features of your iOS devices is never something that should be taken lightly. Apple takes a lot of pride in the security of its devices, but the features are only useful if you take advantage of them.