Apple has added a number of settings and reports to its iOS mobile operating system, which runs on iPhones and iPads, to make personal information more private from webpages, third-party apps and even Apple itself. It all starts with a trip to the iOS settings app. (Most settings use a toggle that is green when on and gray when off.)
There’s only so much that can be done on the device-side, so make sure you’re also keeping an eye on settings for the most popular apps themselves with the rest of our privacy guide.
Ad tracking is when companies collect information about what you’re up to online, where you are, and details about who you are. The data can be sold to third-parties to better target ads to you. This setting lets you decline all requests to track you by default.
- Go to Settings → Privacy → Tracking and turn off “Allow Apps to Request to Track” so the toggle is gray, not green. If you see apps listed below, they requested permission to track you in the past. Turn them off to revoke access.
If you’re still concerned about privacy
Record what your apps are up to
This new feature, added in the iOS 15.2 update, gives a snapshot of what Apple and third-party apps are up to. After you turn it on, let it run for a few hours or days and come back. It saves up to 7 days of data. You’ll see a lot of information in a full report, though not much guidance on what it means or what to do about it.
- To turn it on go to Settings → Privacy → (scroll to bottom) App Privacy Report → Turn on App Privacy Report
- Come back and look at the first section — Data & Sensor Access — to see what apps are accessing more information than needed to do their main functions. It could include your location, microphone, camera, contacts or media library. A weather app, for example, shouldn’t need access to your microphone. Unfortunately, there is no way to revoke access from within the report so you’ll have to take note and do it elsewhere in settings or delete that app, which we’ll get to in the next section.
- Scroll down to see what domains apps and websites are accessing. This information is harder to parse and take action on. There’s little help from Apple here except to say if you see multiple apps and sites contacting the same domain, it could be using your info to create a profile.
Revoke access to your data liberally
This is one of the best things you can do for your privacy. Apps can access huge swath of data about you and your device, but Apple has included a way to control who sees what.
- Go to Settings → Privacy → Location Services. Think of your location as one of the most sensitive categories of information. It can reveal where you live and work, what businesses or doctors you frequent and if you go any place sensitive like a protest. You can turn off Location Services and revoke access for all apps, but that might stops key features from working on certain apps like Weather or Uber. Instead, go down the list and manage them one-by-one
- When you tap on an app, it will give you up to four types of location access to chose from: Never, Ask Next Time or When I Share, While Using the App, or Always. Read the app’s explanation for why it needs your location, then choose the most conservative sharing option. Very few, if any, should be given “Always” access unless it’s a trusted app that uses your constant location to function, say a trusted fitness app mapping all your movement. You can start with “Never” and come back later if it impacts how the app works. There may also be an option to share precise location. Turn this off unless there’s a good reason.
- Go back to the main privacy page and go through each information category such as Calendars, Photos and Microphone. Turn off access for any listed apps you think do not need that type of information and be aggressive. For example, you can tap on Contacts and turn off access for Amazon, Clubhouse and Venmo, but keep it on for encrypted messaging apps.
Stop Apple from targeting its own ads
Apple makes a big fuss about other companies targeting ads, but it does it as well. The company’s ads appear in places like the App Store, Apple News and the Stocks app. There’s an easy way to turn off Apple’s targeting.
- Go to Settings → Privacy → Apple Advertising (at the bottom of the screen). Toggle off the option for Personalized Ads so it is gray.
Stop sharing data for analytics
Apple and its developers collect data about how you use your device and their products to improve products and services, but if you want, you can cut off access. (You may already have opted out when you set up your device.)
- Go to Settings → Privacy → Analytics & Improvements (at the bottom of the screen). You can safely toggle all of these settings off, so that they’re gray instead of green. Some are more revealing than others, such as the “Improve Siri & Dictation” setting, which lets the company review actual audio recordings from your devices that use its voice assistant. You can turn off the option to share iPhone Analytics on top to disable them all at once.
Browse the Internet while sharing less
These settings can make Safari more private, though you also have the option to use a third-party browser app on iOS, such as Firefox.
- Go to Settings → Safari → Search Engine. Change your default search engine from Google to a more private option like DuckDuckGo.
- Back in Safari, scroll down to the Privacy & Security section. Make sure Prevent Cross-Site Tracking is turned on, Hide IP Address is set to “From Trackers” (or “Trackers and Websites” if you’re using iCloud Private Relay), and that you turn off Privacy Preserving Ad Measurement which deactivates the tool for advertisers. You can turn on the Block All Cookies option, but be prepared for some websites to act odd.
- Tap on “Clear History and Website Data” if you want a clean slate, but you may need to log on again to some sites.
- Turn on an ad blocker. Under Settings → Safari → General, tap on Extensions. You can view Safari extensions in the app store and look for content blockers that you want to install, such as Adblock, Wipr or Crystal.
- Feel free to use the Private Browsing mode in Safari, but remember it is just hiding your search history on the phone or connected devices.
New in iOS 15, this feature stops companies that send you emails from getting your IP address or knowing if you’ve opened their message.
- Go to Settings → Mail → Privacy Protection. Turn on the toggle for Protect Mail Activity.
- Turn off “Hey Siri,” the feature that leaves your device’s microphone on so it can listen for the phrase continuously to activate the personal assistant. Go to Settings → Siri & Search → turn off “Listen for ‘Hey Siri.’ ” You’ll have to activate it manually.
- Scroll down to Siri & Dictation History and hit the option to Delete Siri & Dictation History.
If you want to be extra cautious
Turn on iCloud Private Relay
This feature is new, still in beta and requires a paid iCloud subscription, which starts at $1 a month. ICloud Private Relay is Apple’s twist on a virtual private network, or VPN, that works on Safari traffic. It hides your IP address from websites and sends browsing activity through a third-party, so your network provider doesn’t see that information. Your IP address and websites you visit aren’t linked, making it more difficult for third-parties to track you. (Unlike a traditional VPN, iCloud Private Relay doesn’t let you use IP addresses from different countries to try to circumvent country-based rules.)
- Go to Settings → Your Name → iCloud → click on Private Relay (Beta) and turn on the Private Relay toggle. Click IP address Location and set to “Use country and time zone” if you’d rather websites and network providers not know where you are.
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