How to Check and Tighten All Your iPhone’s Privacy Settings
Apps on your iPhone have to ask permission before accessing your data, but have you ever agreed to a permission request only to reconsider it later? Take back control of your data by reviewing your privacy settings.
This is about more than apps, too. Your iPhone lets you limit the ad tracking available to apps, preventing them from showing you targeted ads.
How iPhone Privacy Works
Apple’s rigid approach to iPhone privacy is reassuring, providing you with the tools you need to monitor exactly what your apps know about you. At any point, you can disable an app’s access to your location, camera, microphone, and other potentially sensitive bits of information.
Apps are always asking for permission. If you download a camera app, it will need access to your camera to work. This takes the form of an actionable pop-up window, where you can grant or deny the request.
This is how Apple designed privacy to work on the iOS operating system. You have to manually grant access to information and services, like your location, camera, microphone, health data, and even your Apple Music library. These privacy requests include other apps, like Reminders, Calendar, and Contacts.
Apple did this to make it easy to manage your personal information. Not all apps need access to everything they request to function. You don’t necessarily want all apps to send you push notifications, monitor your location, or listen in on your microphone.
This isn’t all about apps, however. There are other important options you should check, including advertisement tracking, keyboard access, and browser privacy options. There’s nothing paranoid about being privacy-conscious.
How to Change What Your Apps Can Access
You can control what apps have access to from the Settings app. In the Settings app, scroll down and tap on “Privacy” to reveal a list of private types of data, like Location Services, Contacts, and Photos. Tap on each of these to see a list of apps that have requested access. Tap the toggle to grant or revoke access to any app you see fit.
While you’re reviewing your privacy settings, decide whether an app requires the service to run. An app like Shazam needs access to your microphone to work, but Instagram doesn’t need access to your Contacts unless you’re explicitly trying to find friends.
Revoking access to certain services may have knock-on impacts for the app in question. For example, disabling Facebook’s access to your camera will prevent Facebook Camera from working, but it won’t affect the core functionality of the app.
How to Change Which Apps Can Access Your Location
Under Settings > Privacy is a section called Location Services. This is where you control which apps have access to your location. It’s a little different from the other settings because there are three options:
- Never: The app cannot access your location at all.
- While Using the App: The app only has access to your location while it’s open on the screen in front of you.
- Always: The app can query your location in the background.
You’ll also find symbols next to some of the apps, which resemble the iOS Location Services icon (an arrow pointing north-west). This can help you understand which apps are using your location:
- Hollow purple arrow: The app may receive your location under certain conditions.
- Solid purple arrow: The app has used your location recently.
- Solid grey arrow: The app has used your location at some point in the last 24 hours.
If you see an app you don’t use much showing a solid arrow, you might want to rescind access to your location (or consider deleting the app). The hollow arrow often relates to apps that use geofencing, run via widgets, or Apple Watch apps (like Weather).
How to Change Which Contacts Can Access Your Location
You can share your location with other Apple users via iMessage. To do so open Messages and select a contact that is using iMessage (your chat bubbles will be blue, not green). Tap the contact’s name at the top of the screen and then choose “Info.” Tap “Share My Location” to share for one hour, one day, or indefinitely.
It can be easy to forget who you have shared your location with, so you can review this under Settings > Privacy > Location Services. Tap on “Share My Location” to bring up a list of contacts who can track your GPS position in almost real time. You can disable the setting entirely by toggling “Share My Location” or tap on “From” to choose another Apple device from which to broadcast.
You can revoke access to your location by tapping on a contact, scrolling to the bottom of the entry, and tapping “Stop Sharing My Location.” You can also use the Find My Friends app to track and manage location sharing with contacts.
How to Change Which System Services Use Your Location
Head to Settings > Privacy, scroll down to the bottom of the list, and tap “System Services.” You will see a list of services currently using your location. You can toggle any of these off, but most users should leave them enabled.
The “Significant Locations” menu will likely be of particular interest. This is a list of locations that your iPhone stores to “provide useful location-related information in Maps, Calendar, Photos, and more.” This information is encrypted and unavailable to Apple, but it is used by your device to make suggestions relating to traffic, travel time, and more.
Below that is the “Product Improvement” section, which uses your location to help improve Apple’s services. This information is not encrypted and must be made available to Apple (anonymously) to be useful to them. Feel free to disable any services you aren’t comfortable with.
How to Change Which Apps Send You Notifications
Notifications aren’t a huge privacy issue, but they can be annoying. They can also give away information to anyone reading over your shoulder. You can head to Settings > Notifications to disable access to your notifications on a per-app basis.
Lock Down Your Lock Screen
Under Settings > Notifications, you can also change how each notification is displayed on your lock screen. Select an app for which you have enabled notifications and look for the “Show Previews” option. The best option here is to select “When Unlocked” so that previews are only displayed when your device is unlocked by Face ID or Touch ID.
If you’d rather certain notifications never reach the lock screen, uncheck “Lock Screen” under the Alerts section.
You can also disable Siri access on the lock screen under Settings > Siri. By default, Siri won’t give away too much from the lock screen before requesting that you unlock your device. For absolute peace of mind, you can disable lock screen Siri access via the “Allow Siri When Locked” toggle.
How to Manage Third-Party Keyboard Access
Third-party keyboards don’t present a privacy risk unless you grant “Full Access” to the keyboard developer. Full access allows anything you type using a third-party keyboard to be sent to the app developer. It’s required for some keyboards to function to their full capacity, but it can give away personal information, passwords, or even credit card details.
If you have any third-party keyboards installed, they will be listed under Settings > General > Keyboards. Tap on “Keyboards” at the top of the menu to see a list of all that are installed. Tap one, and you’ll see the option for “Allow Full Access,” which you can enable or disable. Keep in mind that some keyboards won’t work without this setting enabled.
Reviewing Your Safari Privacy Settings
Safari is the default browser on your iPhone. You can find its privacy settings under Settings > Safari. Default settings are suitable for most users, as Safari attempts to limit cross-site tracking and displays a fraudulent website warning for flagged domains.
You can go a step further by disabling all cookies. If you do this, you’ll need to log in to services more frequently and some features like shopping carts will not persist between sessions. You can also disable microphone and camera access, although websites will display an additional prompt requesting access if required.
Remember, if you use a different browser (like Chrome), these settings won’t apply. However, Safari is respectful of your privacy in a way that should satisfy most users. If you want one that goes even further, though, consider:
- DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser: This search engine-turned-browser for iOS and Android blocks all third-party cookies, ranks sites based on their privacy policies, and forces encrypted connection. It also ditches Google in favor of DuckDuckGo.
- Ghostery Private Browser: It started as a browser extension, but Ghostery is now available as a private browser for iOS and Android. It promises to show who is tracking you. Also, it provides controls to block trackers, private searching with Cliqz, and protection against potential phishing attacks.
- Onion Browser: Connect directly to Tor and browse the internet privately. Block website trackers, scripts, and cookies. Force secure connections and access .onion websites that are only available through Tor. Find out more about Tor and how it works.
Blocking Phone Numbers, Messages, and FaceTime
Sometimes, taking control of your iPhone privacy means blocking someone you no longer want to talk to. You can prevent a contact from sending you phone calls, FaceTime calls, or Messages by blocking the caller. If the caller has associated their number with FaceTime, FaceTime calls will be blocked, but you may also need to block any email addresses not associated with their number.
To block a number you haven’t saved, launch the Phone app and tap the “Recents” tab. Find the number you want to block and tap the information button (“i”) next to it. On the next screen, select “Block this Caller.” You can do the same under the FaceTime app, or by finding a contact that you have saved under Contacts and tapping “Block this Caller” at the bottom of the entry.
At any time, you can check who you have blocked under Settings > Phone > Call Blocking & Identification. You can also access the “Blocked” menu under Settings > FaceTime and Settings > Messages.
While spam call and SMS monitoring apps do exist, there may be a privacy tradeoff. By using services like Hiya, you’re allowing some of your data to be seen by a third party. However, as the iPhone Settings app puts it, “call blocking and identification apps are not able to access any information about your incoming calls.” If you’re tired of being spammed but don’t want to install another app, the best advice is to stop answering your phone (no, really).
Limit Ad-Tracking in Apple Apps
Apple doesn’t run a stand-alone advertising platform anymore. The iAd platform shut down in 2016. However, Apple does still send targeted adverts through some apps, including the App Store, Apple News, and the Stocks app.
Head to the Settings > Privacy menu, scroll to the bottom of the list, and then tap “Advertising.” If you Limit Ad Tracking, Apple will disable interest-based targeted ads. This means the adverts you receive will be less relevant. Tap “Reset Advertising Identifier” to start over with a clean slate.
Curious as to what Apple uses to serve you adverts? Relevant information includes the device, your location, what you’ve searched for in the App Store, what kind of articles you read in News, stocks you take an interest in, what you download from any of Apple’s storefronts, and even your name and address. You can’t opt-out of this entirely, unfortunately.
You can, however, disable Location-Based Apple Ads under Settings > Privacy > System Services. As the name implies, location-based adverts use your current location to send you relevant advertisements.
Analytics are used to improve Apple’s software. Anonymous information is collected about device usage, errors, and diagnostics. Apple uses this info to update or create new software and devices. App developers can also gather data about app crashes and general usage, too.
To change any of these settings, head to Settings > Privacy, scroll to the bottom of the list, and then tap “Analytics.” Tap “Analytics Data” to view a daily report. You’ll find information in there relating to your use, including the carrier you use, which complications you use on your Apple Watch, and the background processes used by your iPhone.
Apple promises this data is anonymous, but you can still opt out of anything you’re uncomfortable sharing.
iPhone Privacy Gets Better in iOS 13
If you thought Apple’s privacy controls were already pretty robust, iOS 13 heralds a new age of iPhone privacy and security. At the top of the list is a “Sign in with Apple” function which, unlike similar features from Google and Facebook, will not gather information about you. You can even choose to share a unique email address with an app rather than your standard email address. Apple is a hardware company, so it sees no value in having its customer’s information.
There’s also improved nuisance call screening, including the ability to block all incoming calls from unknown numbers. Apple is also finally implementing the ability to grant your permission to an app just once, plus maps of the locations tracked by any apps that have access to your location.
Expected for release in autumn 2019, iOS 13 looks pretty amazing.