Your phone is one-of-a-kind. With all your settings and personal data, it is as unique as your fingerprint (which your phone knows as well).
Since your phone is practically an extension of your body and your consciousness, you want to keep it as secure as possible. iPhone privacy is something every iPhone user should consider; you wouldn’t want strangers reading your 8th-grade diary or your medical records (for wildly different reasons).
However, if your privacy settings are weak, strangers may have access to data a whole lot more personal than that.
Luckily, Apple has provided you the privacy features to take your iPhone security into your own hands right there in your settings app. We’ll guide you through some simple little changes you can make on your device to improve your iPhone privacy settings.
Passcodes and Passwords
Setting strong passwords is your first line of defense in keeping snoopers out of your physical devices and out of your accounts online.
1. Turn OFF Face ID and Touch ID
While it’s best if you never turned these features on in the first place, one way to improve your privacy is to stop giving your iPhone these two pieces of biometric data.
Beyond the obvious reason that facial recognition software is advancing faster than it can be regulated, the legal system has not even come to a consensus on whether or not law enforcement can use this data to unlock your phone without your consent.
To turn these features off, go to your settings app and tap ‘Touch ID/Face ID & Passcode.’ From this menu, you can delete any saved fingerprints and switch off the touch/face ID bank in favor of a passcode.
It’s also recommended that you use a longer passcode that includes both numbers and letters.
2. Turn ON Two-Factor Authentication
You’ve probably used two-factor authentication before; many workplaces have integrated this security feature across the office because it’s a simple yet effective tool for keeping data secure.
If you’ve never used it before or are unfamiliar with the concept, here’s a quick rundown:
Two-factor authentication requires two means of identity verification. So, you might have to put in a password on your computer, then respond to a push notification on your phone. You can turn on two-factor verification for your Apple ID to secure your Apple account.
Each time you need to log in to your Apple account or enter your Apple ID password, you’ll use two-factor verification to confirm your identity.
To turn on two-factor authentication from your iPhone, go into your settings, then tap your name at the top of the screen to enter the Apple ID menu. From here, tap “Password & Security.” Then select “Two Factor Authentication” such that the bar reads “ON” on the right-hand side. That’s all!
You should also consider setting up two-factor verification on all your important, personal data-dense accounts, such as banking and social media.
3. Use “Sign In With Apple”
Whenever a website prompts you to make an account, you should elect to use “Sign in with Apple” when available.
Rather than giving the website your email, using this feature protects your data by basically putting up a randomly generated email address as a fence between that company and your real email.
You’ll still get emails from the company, but they will have passed through the random Apple address first. This way, in the event that that company suffers a data breach, your data won’t be affected.
Additionally, when you use “Sign in With Apple,” it makes it way easier to keep track of which sites you already have accounts on and track their passwords.
This way, you’re not in danger of forgetting your password or getting your account hacked because you use the same password over and over (which you need to stop doing).
You don’t need to do anything in your settings to turn this on; just keep an eye out for the button whenever you find yourself setting up a new account online. If you want to see a list of sites you’ve used “Sign in With Apple” on, you can find it in your settings: Tap your name to access the Apple ID menu, then tap “Password & Security,” then “Apps using Apple ID.”
4. Erase Data After Failed Log-ins
You have the option to set your phone to erase all your data after ten failed login attempts.
This one could be a lifesaver if your phone’s been lost or stolen — but it could be a terrible idea if you have small children who may be trying (and failing) to get into your phone to watch Bluey or on YouTube.
If you’re going to turn this feature on, make sure you make regular backups of your phone so that you can restore all of your data later. To turn on this setting, go to the “Touch ID/Face ID & Passcode Menu’ inside your settings app. Go to “Allow Access When Locked,” and from that menu, scroll down to “Erase Data.”
How Do You Secure Your Phone’s Tracking Settings?
Here’s an important note about this section: We don’t mean tracking as in GPS or location services; we mean tracking as in from one website to another and targeted ads.
Whether you know it or not, your ads are targeted directly at you based on your browsing history. Have you noticed that it seems like just thinking about a product leads to seeing ads about it? That’s ad tracking at work. Sometimes personalized ads are convenient or helpful, but more often than not, they just feel like an invasion of privacy.
Nearly every entity you interact with on your phone can track your data. Apple, Facebook, and many independent apps collect data, for example. Some apps will even sell your data to other entities unless you expressly forbid them from doing so.
It would take a while and a concerted effort to change your cookie settings on every website you visit. It would also take a lot of effort to review your user privacy settings on every website you’ve ever made an account on. Luckily, updating the privacy settings for the apps on your phone prevents some data tracking.
1. Prevent App Tracking
To prevent some data tracking on your iPhone from your apps, you can go to your settings app and tap “Privacy & Security.” Next, go to “Tracking” and disable “Allow Apps to Ask to Track.”
While you’re at it, you should also modify your settings to prevent apps from gathering data you may have accidentally consented to upon installation. From the “Privacy & Security” menu, you can adjust specific data (Location, camera, microphone, Bluetooth, movement, etc.) that specific apps receive.
For example, by tapping “Location Services,” you can quickly see which apps can access your location data and when.
You can adjust these privileges as needed. Most apps don’t need to know your precise location to function and may be gathering this data to sell. So if location data isn’t critical to function for the app, set it to “Never.” Otherwise, “While Using” should suffice.
2. Prevent Apple Tracking
To prevent some data tracking on your iPhone from Apple, go to your settings app, and tap “Privacy & Security.” This time, scroll to the bottom and select “Apple Advertising.” Disable “Personalized Ads.”
3. Prevent Siri Audio Tracking
To prevent sharing any of your data collected through Siri’s audio capabilities, go to your settings app, and tap “Privacy & Security.” once more. Go to “Analytics & Improvements” and tap to disable “Share iPhone Analytics.” This will also prevent Apple from receiving crash reports and iCloud issues.
You can also turn off Siri altogether if you find her to be more of a nuisance than a help. Within your settings app, go to “Siri & Search” and disable both “Press Side Button for Siri” and “Listen for Hey Siri.” From this menu, you can also clear your Siri history by going to “Siri & Dictation History” and then tapping “Delete Siri & Dictation History.”
4. Prevent Siri Background Tracking
Siri is more than just a voice assistant. Siri can access data inside most of your apps. You may notice her making search suggestions based on your activity in apps that aren’t even developed by Apple.
To prevent Siri from collecting data in the background, go to settings, then go to
Siri & Search.” From this menu, you’ll be able to go app by app and adjust Siri’s privileges. Disable “Learn from This App.”
5. Prevent Mail Tracking
This time, once inside your settings app, go to “Mail,” followed by “Privacy Protection.” Toggle “Protect Mail Activity” to ON. Did you know that when you send (or receive!) an email to someone or some entity, they can see your IP address and your general location, such as your city?
Email senders, especially newsletters and marketers, can see if you opened their email or not. By enabling mail privacy protection, the sender or recipient of the mail you interact with won’t receive this data. Note that they will still be able to see if you interact with an external link within their email.
6. Prevent Safari Tracking
The first thing you can do to prevent tracking on Safari is to change your default browser. You can use this advice on any of your internet-connected Apple devices. Google, the default browser, is like a big sponge of data trackers. Instead, opting for a browser (such as DuckDuckGO) that doesn’t track or sell your data is an easy way to keep your browsing data private. You can change the default browser from your settings by going to “Safari” in the settings menu, then tapping “Search Engine.”
Additionally, from that “Safari” menu in settings, no matter what search engine you use, disable tracking. Scroll down to “Privacy & Security,” then turn ON “Prevent Cross-Site Tracking.” It seems a little sneaky that this is something you have to opt-out of rather than opt into, but it’s pretty clear that this model benefits everyone except the device user, and we must work with what we’re given. By turning on this setting, you won’t be tracked from one site (say, Facebook) to another (Perhaps Amazon). While you’re in this menu, you should also scroll down to “Hide IP Address” and set this to “From Trackers” or “From Trackers and Websites.”
Finally, you want to turn off Apple’s attempt at best-of-both-worlds ad tracking, known as ad measurements. “Private Click Measurements” is designed to gather data about the way users and viewers interact with ads without including any personal data or compromising the privacy of any one user. It’s not a bad system, as the advertiser does not know it was you that clicked their ad, and it is designed to be a privacy aid. But if you’re still uncomfortable with it, you can opt out of this by toggling “Privacy Preserving Ad Measurement” to OFF. Remember that you can always download an ad blocker for your iPhone.
1. Turn ON “Find My”
This might be surprising given all the information we’ve shared here, but this is one service Apple offers that you absolutely want to turn on location services for. The Find My application on your phone (and iPad, Macbook, etc.) is there to help you keep track of lost devices or friends that you specifically grant access to. If you lose your device, Find My can help you find it or wipe the device remotely if necessary. Many people take comfort in knowing that someone they trust can track their location for personal safety purposes. Find My will show you every other device that is able to view your location, and you can change who has this privilege at will.
To make sure that Find My is turned on, go to your settings and tap your name to open the Apple ID menu. Then tap “Find My,” and make sure that “Find My iPhone” is enabled. Next, make sure you have access to another Apple device (either yours or a friend’s) to share your location data with to find your device if necessary.
2. Review Your Location Services Permissions
Did you know third-party weather apps are the most common culprits for selling your location data? You never know which apps are doing what with your data, so you should be extremely conservative when allowing apps access to your location data.
To review which apps currently have access to your location and when, go to your settings, then “Privacy & Security.” Tap “Location Services,” the first item on the menu. In this menu, you can see all your apps laid out with labeled permissions. All apps should say either “Never” or “While Using.”
If you tap an app on that list, you have the option to dictate if it is allowed to see your ‘Precise Location’ or an approximate location. ‘Precise Location’ is how that Snapchat filter can tell you which restaurant you’re in on a busy street. For some apps, like Snapchat, you may find this helpful or worthwhile, but for most apps, like Facebook Messenger, it’s worth turning OFF, even if the ‘Allow Location Access’ setting is ‘While Using.’
Did you know that your camera can add locations to the metadata of your photos? Unless you often search your photos based on location (if they’re mostly in one city, this won’t be very helpful), you may want to switch that permission to “Never.”
Minor though it may seem, your lockscreen may be betraying private information to wandering eyes. Luckily, the iPhone lock screen has never been more customizable. So let’s make sure your custom design is working for your privacy.
1. Scour Your Lock Screen of Revealing Widgets
You have a passcode for a reason! Don’t leave your personal data hanging outside the passcode curtain in the form of oversharing widgets. Instead, edit your lock screen to remove widgets such as your social media, text messages, or calendar. Begin editing your lock screen’s widgets as you typically would: Hold down your locked screen, then unlock and continue holding, tap “Customize,” then select your lock screen. Tap the widget field and remove any revealing widgets.
2. Disable App Access When Locked
Similarly, the point of a passcode is that your phone shouldn’t be usable when it’s locked. Yet, there are likely some ways around that passcode enabled on your device right now, such as your messages and your phone.
To correct this counterintuitive design, go into your settings, then to the “Touch ID/Face ID & Passcode Menu.” Go to “Allow Access When Locked,” and from that menu, disable all options or any that you’d like. We’d recommend disabling “Reply with Message,” “Return Missed Calls,” and “Notification Center” as they’re the most likely to betray some personal information.
3. Adjust Your Notification Settings
Notifications from your messages or calendars may display sensitive data on your lock screen. Now, you probably don’t want to turn off notifications completely; after all, notifications can be extremely useful, and most of us rely on our phones to keep us organized. Instead, set your notifications to only notify you when your phone is unlocked. To change your notification settings to only notify you when your device is unlocked, go to your settings. Go to “Notification,” followed by “Show Previews.” From this menu, change the setting to “When Unlocked” (or “OFF” if you prefer).
Alternatively, if you’d prefer to change the setting on an individual app-by-app basis. From the “Notifications” menu, navigate to the individual app you’d like to change privileges for, and from that app’s menu, toggle “Show Previews.”
Messages and Calls
1. Block Spam Callers
Not only are spam callers annoying, but they’re also a hazard. Luckily, your iPhone makes it easy to block spam calls. If there is a consistent number, or group of numbers, bothering you, locate the number you want to block in your phone’s recent call log in the Phone app. Tap the information “i” button beside the number. Scroll down on this contact card and tap “Block this Caller.” Rinse and repeat as needed. To view a list of numbers you’ve blocked, look in your settings app: go to “Phone,” then scroll down to tap “Blocked Contacts.” There, you’ll find a list of blocked phone numbers and email addresses.
What about numbers you’ve never seen before that are calling for the first time? Go into your settings, then to “Phone,” then scroll down to “Silence Unknown Callers.” Calls will be sent straight to voicemail. This method does have the side effect of preventing ALL calls from unknown callers, so if you frequently expect calls from people outside of your contacts, this may not be for you. Specifically, any number you have ever texted or called (or even has appeared in your email) will NOT be affected by this block, it only blocks numbers you’ve never interacted with before. If you use your iPhone’s emergency call feature, this setting will be automatically disabled for 24 hours.
If the above two methods don’t stop the calls, you may need to download a third-party app for assistance. One such app might be Robo Shield. After downloading your app, go into the phone menu within the settings app once more. Look for “Call Blocking and Identification.” If you had more than one app for this, they would appear as a list on the next screen, but assuming you only have one, it will appear here alone. Toggle the app to ON in this menu. This app will now check unknown numbers against its own database of spam callers and block calls on your behalf.
2. Hide Your iMessage Profile While Sending iMessages
Unlike SMS messages, when you send an iMessage, the person you message will be able to see your contact card for yourself from your iMessage profile, including your name and photo. Many people are surprised to learn this; if that includes you, you may have never set up an iMessage profile. If you have not, you can skip this section, but double-check anyway.
To view your iMessage profile contact card, go directly into your Messages app, and tap “Edit” in the top left corner. From the drop-down menu, select “Edit Name and Photo.” At this point, you will know if you have an existing profile or not based on if your profile appears or if it prompts you to set one up. If your profile appears, continue to the next step. Next, find “Name and Photo Sharing” and toggle it OFF. However, if you choose to leave sharing on, it also gives you the option to only share with people already in your contacts (who likely already know who you are, anyhow) or ask you every time you text someone new. It’s easiest and safest to just switch it off.
3. Set Old Messages to Auto-Delete
You can’t snoop through things that don’t exist! So set old messages to delete after either 30 days or one year. As a bonus, this is also great for preserving space on your device. To set old texts to delete, go to your settings and select “Messages.” Locate “Keep Messages” and set it to either “30 Days” or “1 Year.”
4. Review Microphone Permissions
Alright, this applies to so much more than calls and messages, but making phone calls is the reason your phone has a microphone in the first place! Some apps, like your phone or your camera, obviously need microphone access to do their job. But many apps on your phone may have access to your microphone without any discernible reason.
To see which apps in your phone currently have access to your mic, go to your settings, then “Privacy & Security.” Tap “Microphone.” Here, you’ll see a list of apps that have requested microphone access. You can toggle the access ON or OFF. It’s not quite as advanced or as customizable as location services, but in theory, apps shouldn’t have access to your microphone when it’s not in use anyway. Another great reminder not to leave apps running in the background.
Even if you have an app that uses the mic once in a blue moon, go ahead and switch the permission off since you can always turn it back on if you need to.
1. Turn Off Unnecessary iCloud Back-Ups
Backing up your phone to iCloud is generally a good idea since it keeps your data available to you in the tragic event that you lose or destroy your iPhone. However, you need to be aware of the downsides as well. Remember, anything you store in your iCloud, Apple has access to, and therefore if law enforcement ever needed access to your iCloud files, they would not need your consent and could obtain them directly from Apple.
iCloud backups are optional, and you can always make frequent backups of your device to a hard drive or desktop instead. You should have a backup of your device no matter what; otherwise, you risk losing your data. If frequent manual hard drive backups sound like too much of a hassle for you to commit to, you’re not alone.
You can change what iCloud stores when it creates a backup. In your settings, tap your name to access the Apple ID menu, then tap “iCloud.” Select “Show All.” From this menu, you can deselect anything you don’t want to be stored in the cloud.
2. Utilize Premium iCloud Features
Apple offers some paid iCloud features to improve security. If you have iOS 15 or later, you can purchase some of these features to add to your (paid) iCloud+ subscription.
iCloud Private Relay hides your IP address online. This makes it more difficult for advertisers to build a profile for you as a user. This may sound like a VPN or TOR Network, though it’s not totally the same. iCloud Private Relay works by reflecting your queries through multiple parties, including Apple, before reaching their targets to obscure the queries’ original IP address. To turn it on, enter your setting and tap your name to open the Apple ID menu. Next, go to “iCloud” and toggle on “Private Relay.” This is a very new feature from Apple, and the jury is still out on its effectiveness. If this sounds appealing, you may want to just look into a VPN.
“Hide My Email” does what the name suggests it does. It works similarly to the way using “Sign in with Apple” works, which is that it creates a randomized email address that will then forward mail to your real address. This paid feature will activate this login method even when “Sign in with Apple” is not available. If you start receiving spam mail to this random email address, you’ll be able to see which company sold your contact details, then immediately close that email. Beyond paying for it, turning on this feature is the same as the above: enter your settings and tap your name to open the Apple ID menu. Next, go to “iCloud” and toggle on “Hide My Email.”
1. Update your iOS, Update your Apps
iPhones running the most up-to-date iOS decrease their susceptibility to privacy breaches. Among all the other benefits, operating system updates often bring you security patches. If you’re still running iOS 14 or iOS 15, it’s time to update to iOS 16. The easiest way to keep your phone’s operating system up to date is to make sure automatic updates are turned on. In your settings, go to “General,” followed by “Software Update.” Toggle “Automatic Updates” to ON.
To keep your apps up to date automatically, it’s equally easy. This time, within your settings app, tap the “App Store” menu. Under the heading “Automatic Downloads,” locate “App Updates,” and toggle it to ON. That’s all!
Check Back Next Year
Privacy is an ever-evolving challenge. It’s never been harder to keep your private life private. As quickly as new privacy protections are rolled out, it seems like new ways to circumvent them are as well. But don’t give up; with every new iOS and every new hardware, people are working hard to help you maintain your privacy. It may be more work than you thought, but it’s worth it.