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 12 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 which 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 12 settings are comprehensive, but be aware that there are often privacy settings within apps. For example, running 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.
1 Customise iOS location services
The obvious place to begin customising 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 this global switch (it might save some battery power though). Most people will find it best to turn it on and then to customise the settings within Location Services. For example, press Share My Location.
2 Share/don’t share your location
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
Some apps access location information and a list can be seen at Settings > Privacy > Location Services. Press Facebook for example, and notice that your location is used for “getting better ads.” Does this mean that Facebook is passing on your location to advertisers? It seems likely. If you don’t want Facebook advertisers to know your location, select the Never option above.
Check all of the other apps in the list and see what they say. Some are vague, like Twitter’s “Enjoy the experience tailored to your location.” Does Twitter really need to know where you are? Block it if you don’t want to share your location.
4 Stop location-based ads
Apple advertising will use your location to display location-based ads if you let it. Would you rather it didn’t know where you are? Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services, swipe up to get to the bottom and press System Services. Turn off the switch next to Location-Based Apple Ads.
Location-Based Suggestions can also be enabled/disabled. Presumably some location information is shared in order to get the suggestions. Is this an issue for you? Turn it off it is is.
5 View and delete significant locations in iOS
The iPhone tracks your location and takes note of where you stop and use the device. Places are then stored in the Significant Locations list. View the locations your iPhone has saved by going to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services and press Significant Locations. (Also notice the iPhone Analytics switch above. Turn it off to prevent information being sent to Apple.)
The switch at the top stops iOS from storing significant locations. 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, for example, if you lent it to someone, they could view the places you have been to. They can all be cleared using the button below the list of locations. Press a location to remove just that single item.
6 Choose what apps can access
Back at Settings > Privacy there is a list of apps that contain personal information like photos and contacts, and hardware, such as the camera and microphone. Press each one to see a list of apps that have requested access to that information or the hardware. Press each app and choose from Never or Read and Write. 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. 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 and there are two important items at the bottom of the list. Swipe to get to them. The first is Analytics and there are options to share your iPhone and iPad usage with Apple and developers or to keep it private. Swipe the screen because there are health data options below these switches here. You can choose whether that is sent to Apple too.
What information does Apple get? Tap Analytics Data and then tap one of the items – bundles of data 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? A compromise here is to allow Apple to have analytics data, but not developers. 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 it carefully.
8 Limit ad tracking
The second item at the bottom of the Settings > Privacy screen is Advertising. Press it and there is an option to Limit Ad Tracking. Someone, somewhere will receive information about your interests if this switch is off, and they will build a profile about you and target you with adverts. Turn the switch on 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 may be others. Go to Settings > Safari, tap the search engine and set it to DuckDuckGo. This is a more private alternative to Google that does not track you and you may prefer it because of this.
You can still type google.com into Safari and perform a Google search and this setting only affects searching from the address box at the top of Safari browser. Search DuckDuckGo first and then only if you cannot find the results you need, search Google.
Further down the Safari Settings screen are some useful options like Prevent Cross-Site Tracking and Ask Websites Not to Track Me. 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
If you are wondering where this is, it is in the new Screen Time feature in iOS 12. Go to Settings > Screen Time and if it is enabled, press Content & Privacy Restrictions. Turn on the switch and all the items below can be configured.
Tap an item, like Photos, and there are options to Allow Changes or Don’t Allow Changes. You can therefore lock down something like the Photos app so that some apps can access it, but others cannot.
It is very similar, but not quite the same as setting app permissions covered above in 6 Choose what apps can access and so it can be a bit confusing. It would be useful when setting up a phone for a child for example, and it would prevent them giving permission for anything else because Screen Time can be locked by you.
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.
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.
This 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. For example, a VPN goes a long way towards hiding your identity and it gives you an anonymous IP address for example.