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Apps on your iPhone must ask for permission before they can access your data, but have you ever agreed to a permission request so you can review it later? Take back control of your data by reviewing your privacy settings.

This doesn’t just apply to apps. Your iPhone allows you to limit the ad tracking available to apps, preventing them from showing you targeted ads.

How iPhone privacy works

Apple’s tough approach to iPhone privacy is reassuring, giving you the tools you need to track exactly what your apps know about you. At any time, you can disable the app’s access to your location, camera, microphone, and other potentially sensitive pieces of information.

Apps always ask for permission. If you download the camera app, it will have access to your camera to work with. This takes the form of a popup where you can choose to allow or deny the request.

This is how Apple designed privacy to work on the iOS operating system. You must manually grant access to information and services such as your location, camera, microphone, health data, and even your Apple Music library. These privacy requests include other apps such as Reminders, Calendar, and Contacts.

Screenshot of the Snapseed iOS app requesting access to the Photos app

Apple did this to make it easier to manage your personal information. Not all applications need access to everything they ask for in order to work. You don’t necessarily want all apps to send you push notifications, track your location, or listen to your microphone.

It’s not all about apps, however. There are other important settings you should check including ad tracking, keyboard access, and browser privacy settings. There is nothing paranoid about being concerned about privacy.

How to change access to your applications

You can control access to apps from the Settings app. In the Settings app, scroll down and tap Privacy to open a list of personal data types such as Location Services, Contacts, and Photos. Click on each one to see a list of apps that have requested access. Click the switch to grant or revoke access to any application you see fit.

iOS privacy menu

While you’re browsing your privacy settings, decide if the app needs to start a service. 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 affect this application. For example, disabling Facebook access to your camera will prevent the Facebook camera from working, but it won’t affect the app’s core functionality.

How to change which apps can access your location

Under Settings > Privacy is the Location Services section. Here you can control which apps have access to your location. This is a little different from the other settings because there are three options:

  • Never: the app cannot access your location at all.
  • When using the application: the app only has access to your location while it’s open on the screen in front of you.
  • Is always: The app may request your location in the background.

iOS Location Services Menu

Next to some apps, you’ll also find symbols that resemble the iOS Location Services icon (an arrow pointing northwest). This can help you understand which apps are using your location:

  • Hollow purple arrow: the app can get your location under certain conditions.
  • Solid purple arrow: The app has recently used your location.
  • Solid gray arrow: the app has used your location at some point in the last 24 hours.

If you see an app you’re not using often showing a solid arrow, you might want to revoke access to your location (or consider deleting the app). The empty arrow often refers to apps that use geofencing, run through 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 through iMessage. To do this, open Messages and select a contact that uses iMessage (the chat bubbles will be blue instead of green). Tap the contact’s name at the top of the screen, then select Info. Click «Share Your Location» to send it for one hour, one day, or indefinitely.

It can be easy to forget who you’ve shared your location with, so you can view this under Settings > Privacy > Location Services. Click «Share Your Location» to open a list of contacts who can track your GPS location in near real time. You can disable the setting entirely by toggling «Share Your Location» or by tapping «From» to choose another Apple device to broadcast from.

Screenshot of the "Share my location" toggle on iOS.

You can stop sharing your location by clicking on a contact, scrolling to the bottom of the entry, and clicking «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

Go to Settings > Privacy, scroll down to the bottom of the list and click System Services. You will see a list of services that are currently using your location. You can disable any of these, but most users should leave them enabled.

The Significant Places menu is likely to be of particular interest. This is a list of places your iPhone stores to «provide useful location information in Maps, Calendar, Photos, and more.» This information is encrypted and not available to Apple, but it is used by your device to make suggestions regarding traffic, travel time, and more.

Screenshot of the iOS system services menu

Below is a Product Improvement section that uses your location to improve Apple services. This information is not encrypted and must be provided to Apple (anonymously) in order to be useful to them. Feel free to turn off any services you don’t like.

How to change which apps send you notifications

Notifications are not a major privacy issue, but they can be annoying. They can also relay information to anyone who reads over their shoulder. You can go to Settings > Notifications to turn off access to your notifications on a per-app basis.

Screenshot of the notification menu in iOS.

Lock screen lock

In Settings > Notifications, you can also change how each notification appears on the lock screen. Select the app for which you have turned on notifications and look for the «Show preview» option. The best option here is to select «When Unlocked» so that the preview only shows up when your device is unlocked with Face ID or Touch ID.

If you’d rather certain notifications never reach the lock screen, uncheck Lock Screen under Alerts.

Screenshot of the Siri menu in Settings on iOS.

You can also turn off access to Siri on the lock screen in Settings > Siri. By default, Siri doesn’t give too much away from the lock screen before asking you to unlock your device. For complete peace of mind, you can disable access to the Siri lock screen using the «Allow Siri Lock» toggle.

How to manage third-party keyboard access

Third party keyboards are not a privacy threat unless you grant «Full Control» to the keyboard developer. Full access allows you to send whatever you type with a third-party keyboard to the app developer. Some keyboards need to work at full capacity, but they can give out personal information, passwords, or even credit card information.

Screenshot of iOS warning to enable "full access" for third-party keyboards.

If you have third-party keyboards installed, they will be listed under Settings > General > Keyboards. Click on «Keyboards» at the top of the menu to see a list of everything installed. Click one and you’ll see an «Allow Full Control» option that you can turn on or off. Be aware that some keyboards will not work without this setting.

View Safari Privacy Settings

Safari is the default browser on your iPhone. You can find its privacy settings in Settings > Safari. The default settings are fine for most users as Safari tries to limit cross-site tracking and displays a fraudulent website warning for tagged domains.

You can go even further by disabling all cookies. If you do this, you will need to sign in to services more often, and some features, such as shopping carts, will not persist between sessions. You can also turn off microphone and camera access, although websites will display an additional prompt asking for access if necessary.

Screenshot of Safari's privacy and security settings for iOS.

Please note that if you are using a different browser (such as Chrome), these settings will not apply. However, Safari respects your privacy in a way that will satisfy most users. If you want even more, consider:

Block phone numbers, messages and FaceTime

Sometimes taking control of your iPhone’s 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 Recent tab. Find the number you want to block and press the information button («i») next to it. On the next screen, select «Block this caller». You can do the same in the FaceTime app, or find a contact saved in Contacts and tap Block This Caller at the bottom of the entry.

Screenshot of the "Block this caller" option in the Phone app.

At any time, you can check who you have blocked in Settings > Phone > Call Blocking & Identification. You can also open the Blocked menu under Settings > FaceTime and Settings > Messages.

While there are spam and SMS monitoring apps, there are privacy trade-offs. By using services such as Hiya, you allow third parties to view some of your data. However, as the iPhone Settings app says, «Call blocking and identification apps cannot access information about incoming calls.» If you’re tired of spam 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 no longer operates a separate ad platform. The iAd platform was shut down in 2016. However, Apple still sends targeted ads through some apps, including the App Store, Apple News, and the Stocks app.

Go to Settings > Privacy, scroll to the bottom of the list and click Advertising. If you limit ad tracking, Apple will disable interest-based targeted ads. This means that the ads you receive will be less relevant. Click «Reset Advertising ID» to start over with a clean slate.

Ads menu screen on iOS.

Want to know what Apple uses for advertising? Relevant information includes your device, your location, what you searched in the App Store, what articles you read in the news, the stocks you are interested in, what you download from any of the Apple Stores, and even your name and address. You can’t completely opt out of this, unfortunately.

However, you can turn off location-based Apple ads in Settings > Privacy > System Services. As the name suggests, location-based advertising uses your current location to send you relevant advertisements.

Adjust how information is shared with Apple

Analytics are used to improve Apple software. Anonymous information is collected about device usage, errors and diagnostics. Apple uses this information to update or create new software and devices. App developers can also collect data about app crashes and overall app usage.

To change any of these options, go to Settings > Privacy, scroll to the bottom of the list, and click Analytics. Click «Analytics Data» to view the daily report. There you’ll find information related to your usage, including the carrier you’re using, what complexities you’re using on your Apple Watch, and the background processes your iPhone is using.

Analytics screen in Privacy settings on iPhone.

Apple promises that this data is anonymous, but you can still opt out of anything you don’t feel comfortable sharing.

iPhone privacy gets better in iOS 13

If you thought Apple’s privacy controls were already strong enough, iOS 13 heralds a new era of iPhone privacy and security. At the top of the list is the «Sign in with Apple» feature, which, unlike similar features from Google and Facebook, will not collect information about you. You can even share a unique email address with the app instead of a standard email address. Apple is a hardware company, so it sees no point in getting information about its customers.

There’s also improved spam checking, 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 only once, as well as location maps tracked by any apps that have access to your location.

Expected to release in fall 2019, iOS 13 looks pretty amazing.

CONNECTED: This is why iOS 13 makes me want an iPhone

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