Every privacy setting you need to know in iOS on the iPhone

Privacy, or the lack of it, is a constant worry these days with so many online companies wanting to track and profile you. Fight back with these important iOS settings on the iPhone and iPad.

If you care about personal privacy, the iPhone is a much better choice than an Android phone because it has many more features for controlling the information you share and what information apps can access than Android.

Here I take a look at the many settings and controls that enable you to choose what information is shared and who can access it. As you dig into the settings, more are revealed and while many privacy features are obvious, some are not and may be in surprising locations.

iOS settings are comprehensive, but be aware that there are often privacy settings within apps. For example, exercise apps may share maps of your runs online, which could then make your home location publicly visible if you start recording runs from your home. Social network apps can reveal information about you to other members or even non-members, so the following settings are just the start if you really want to increase privacy.

There is a trade-off between privacy and useful features. Sometimes you have to give up some privacy in order to use a certain feature on the phone or in an app. Here are the most important privacy settings. It is up to you whether you use them.

1 Customise iOS location services

Location services settings on the iPhone

The obvious place to begin customizing iOS privacy features is in the Privacy section of the Settings app. Right at the top is Location Services and tapping it enables it to be turned on or off. It is a global setting that affects everything.

Some apps and some features on the iPhone do not work if Location Services are completely turned off with the global switch (it might save some battery power though). Most people will find it best to turn it on and then to customize the settings within Location Services. For example, tap Share My Location.

2 Share your location?

Share your location with others on the iPhone

Your location is tracked by the iPhone but the places you visit are not made public. However, family and friends might be able to see your location in Messages and the Find My Friends feature. Increase privacy by turning off the switch if you don’t want anyone to know where you are.

3 Stop apps using location information

Choose whether an app on the iPhone can access your location

Some apps access location information and a list can be seen at Settings > Privacy > Location Services. Press an app, such as Outlook for example, and there are several options. Whether an app needs to know your location depends on the type of app. In this case it might be useful, but with other apps it might not be.

Check all of the apps in the list and read the explanation of why they want to access your location. Block it if it does not have a good reason by selecting Never. Alternatively, turn off the Precise Location switch and the app will only be able to see your approximate location, such as which town you are in and not the exact street and building. It has a fuzzy location instead of a precise one.

4 Stop location based services

Location services on the iPhone can be changed for privacy

Go to Settings > Privacy > Location services then swipe to get to the bottom and press System services. There is a long list of items that all use your location. Most of them are useful and while it may be more private to turn them off, doing so will prevent some things from working on the iPhone. Ones your might want to disable include Location-Based Suggestions and Share My Location. I leave them on, but it is up to you.

5 View and delete significant locations in iOS

Significant locations recorded on an iPhone

See Significant Locations in that last screenshot? Press it. The iPhone tracks your location and takes note of where you stop and use the device. Places are then stored in the Significant Locations history list. There is a master switch at the top to prevent the iPhone from storing significant locations. It is up to you. Do you want your iPhone to do this or not? I find it sometimes stores locations that are not significant. Tap a location to open it and then swipe left over the locations to delete them.

The locations are encrypted and cannot be read by Apple, so storing them should not be a problem. However, if someone got hold of your phone, like your partner for example, or if you lend your iPhone to someone, they could view the places you have been to. It’s a privacy issue.

6 Choose what apps can access

iPhone privacy settings, see which apps can access photos

Go to Settings > Privacy and there is a list of apps that are able to access personal information like photos and contacts, and hardware, like the camera and microphone. Press each item to see a list of apps that have requested access to that information or the hardware.

The Photos app is an example and you can see which apps are able to access your photos. Press each app and choose from Selected Photos, All Photos or None. If you accidentally gave permission to an app when first using it, revoke permission here.

Some apps obviously need access and WhatsApp must access the camera, microphone and photos for obvious reasons. Check apps and items on the list and revoke permission to any app you think doesn’t need to access it.

7 iPhone Analytics sharing

Go to Settings > Privacy, swipe to get to the bottom of the page and there is an important item. Press Analytics & Improvements and there are options to share your iPhone and iPad usage with Apple and developers or to keep it private. Swipe up the screen because there are health data options below these switches here. You can choose whether that is sent to Apple too.

Options to share analytics data on the iPhone in the Settings app

What information does Apple get? Tap Analytics Data and then tap one of the items to see the bundles of data that sent to Apple. Sometimes there is only a small amount of information, but occasionally there is a lot.

Do you want to share your usage data with Apple or developers? A good compromise here is to allow Apple to have analytics data, because of its privacy focus these days, but not developers. Turn off Share With App Developers to be more private. It is up to you how much you are comfortable sharing and there is no need to share anything if you don’t want to. Think about the options carefully.

8 Limit ad tracking

Stop Apple ad targeting on the iPhone

There is an interesting item at the bottom of the Settings > Privacy screen, Apple Advertising. Press it and there is an opportunity to opt out of Personalized Ads. Using the information you enter and how you use your iPhone, Apple will build a profile about you and target you with adverts. Turn the switch off and your interests and activities are kept private.

This does not affect the number of ads, only the type. You are more anonymous with the switch on.

9 Set Safari privacy options

Some apps have their own privacy settings and Safari is one example, but there are others. Go to Settings > Safari, tap the search engine and set it to either DuckDuckGo or Ecosia. These two search engines are more private alternatives to Google, Bing and Yahoo!. They do not track you and you may prefer it because of this.

Choose a private search engine in Safari on the iPhone

You can still type google.com or another search engine into Safari and perform a search and this Safari setting only affects searching from the address box at the top of Safari browser. Search DuckDuckGo or Ecosia first for privacy and then only if you cannot find the results you need, search Google.

Further down the Safari Settings screen is a Privacy & Security section with options like Prevent Cross-Site Tracking and Privacy preserving Ad measurement. Blocking all cookies is possible, but is not a good idea because some are useful, like online stores and services you use, whether you are logged in or out, and so on. It is hard to separate the good cookies from the bad ones, so you end up having to accept them all.

10 Content & Privacy Restrictions

Content and privacy restrictions on the iPhone

Screen Time is a feature in iOS that enables you to control and limit access to various features on the iPhone and iPad. Go to Settings > Screen Time and press Content & Privacy Restrictions. Turn on the switch at the top and then all the items below can be configured.

Tap an item, like Contacts, and there are options to Allow Changes or Don’t Allow Changes. There is a list of apps that have requested access to your contacts. You can therefore lock down features like your personal contacts so that only the apps you choose can access them and others cannot. Select each of the items and check that the options you want are set.

11 Reset privacy

If you have thoroughly messed up the iOS location and privacy settings and want to start again with a clean slate, go to Settings > General > Reset and press Reset Location & Privacy. The default settings are applied.

Reset the iPhone to clear everything

Don’t use Reset All Settings and Erase All Content and Settings or you will reset the phone to factory settings. It will be like new. This is useful if you are selling the iPhone, but otherwise ignore the options.

12 Add a VPN for privacy

Although iOS has a lot of useful privacy settings built in, a VPN can be used to improve privacy on the internet. One can be added manually without installing anything if you have the connection details. Go to Settings > General > VPN and tap Add VPN Configuration.

It can be done this way, but manually adding a VPN is for experts and most people find installing a VPN app is much easier. You can simply get a VPN account, download the app and sign in to make your internet activities much more private. I have used NordVPN, Ivacy VPN, ProtonVPN and others. They are recommended.

13 Stop tracking

A new privacy feature in iOS 13.5 is the ability to prevent apps from tracking you across apps and the web. Go to Settings > Privacy > Tracking. At the top is a switch that enables apps to request to track. Turn it off if you want to prevent all apps from tracking you. They cannot even ask permission.

Block app tracking on the iPhone

Turn the switch on and if an app wants to track you, it must ask for permission. Your choice is stored on this screen and in the screenshot you can see that two apps have asked for permission and have been denied. Use the switches to change your mind.

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