Smartphones are inherent privacy risks. Carrying around your digital life in your pocket is convenient, but it can lead to some unwanted side effects.
It might be your lock screen divulging the contents of your text messages, or an app you’d rather your friends not see. In the battle between convenience and privacy, we often put everyday ease of use over our personal lives.
Despite Apple holding back on a full suite of privacy features, there are a few ways you can keep your private life hidden on your iPhone.
Use Vault Apps to Hide Data
There’s no shortage of apps designed to hide private data in plain sight. When I rounded up the best iOS calculator apps, I found more fake calculator apps than legitimate ones. These apps and others like them are designed mostly for hiding photos and videos.
Many of them do exactly what they say on the tin like Vault, Keepsafe, and Private Photo Vault. These apps are unashamedly designed to lock private data behind a fingerprint, passcode, or password. They’re all free to start, with higher-end features like cloud syncing available via in-app purchase.
There also exists a subset of apps designed to look entirely normal. These are mostly calculator apps posing as vaults like Fake Calculator ($3) and Secret Photo Album (Free). It seems a large number of these apps have disappeared since Apple took exception and started removing them from the App Store.
Exclude Apps From Siri Suggestions and Search
You can’t hide apps on iOS, but you can exclude them from Siri Suggestions and your device’s search results. Siri Suggestions is the small box of suggested apps that appears when you “pull down” the search box on your iPhone’s home screen.
Siri looks at the apps you’re using, when you’re using them, and where, then suggests them at appropriate moments. It’s one of the biggest time savers on iOS, but you might not want everything showing up here.
To change an app’s visibility head to Settings > Siri & Search and scroll down till you find the app in question. Tap it and uncheck the Search & Siri Suggestions box to exclude it. This removes app data (associated documents) from search listings, such indexed Evernote notes.
Go a step further and remove the app from suggestions and search entirely by unchecking Show App. In future you’ll need to go directly to the app icon in order to launch it.
Hide Your iTunes and App Store Purchases
Hiding your past purchases won’t stop them from showing up on your device (assuming they’re present). Instead, this removes the listing from the Purchased section of the App Store on all devices linked to your Apple ID. This applies to free and paid apps.
To hide a purchase, launch the App Store and tap on your user icon in the top-right corner. Tap Purchased then scroll down till you find an app you want to hide. Swipe left on it and tap Hide. The app will disappear from your purchase history, and you’ll need to authenticate your Apple ID in order to re-download it.
To re-download a previously hidden app, head to Settings > [Your Name] > iTunes & App Store. Tap on your Apple ID then View Apple ID. Once you’ve authenticated your account, you’ll find the Hidden Purchases list under the iTunes in the Cloud section.
Lock Your Notes
If you use Apple Notes, you can lock individual notes with a swipe. Simply find the note you want to lock, swipe left, and tap Lock. In future you’ll need to unlock the note using your fingerprint, Face ID, or iPhone passcode.
Unfortunately you can’t add items from the Share menu to locked notes, since there’s no option to unlock them first. That limits the usefulness of the feature somewhat, but it’s still a great way of keeping private data away from prying eyes.
Hide Your Photos and Videos
You can hide photos and videos on your iPhone using the Photos app. This removes the photos from your main Moments index, and instead places them into a “hidden” folder on the Albums tab. This album is not locked or obfuscated in any way, so your photos are still accessible.
Unfortunately, the existence of a hidden album that’s not protected is itself a privacy red flag. The album might as well be titled “here’s some private stuff the owner of this device doesn’t want you to see.” Thus the feature isn’t meant to make sensitive images inaccessible, but make it a little harder to accidentally flick past them while browsing your snaps.
To mark a photo as hidden, first select it in your Camera Roll or Moments and hit the Share button. On the bottom row of actions, tap Hide and the photo will disappear. If you want to lock the photos, you could always export them to a new Apple Note, then lock the note per the instructions above.
Hide Texts With iMessage
Apps like Telegram and Wickr offer secure end-to-end encryption, self-deleting messages, and passcode or biometric security to stop snoopers gaining access. By comparison, iMessage offers a end-to-end encryption, but your messages are not locked away nor do they expire.
iMessage does have one trick up its sleeve to help hide text messages from curious onlookers, though. You can send and receive scrambled messages by holding the Send button and choosing Invisible Ink. In order to reveal the message contents, you (and the recipient) will need to physically tap the message first.
After a few seconds, the text is obscured again. Invisible Ink messages don’t expire, and they only work with iMessage for iOS, Apple Watch, and macOS. If you’re really concerned about message security, opt for a secure messaging app instead.
Lock Down Your Lock Screen
Siri and your notifications might give away your iPhone secrets, but you can take back control. Head to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode and authenticate, then scroll down to the section titled Allow Access When Locked.
Uncheck any items you don’t want others to access while your iPhone is locked. Keep in mind that many of these are convenient features you probably use every day, like the ability to view incoming notifications without unlocking your device.
At the same time, many of these settings offer real privacy concerns. You might want to disable Control Center to prevent a would-be thief enabling Airplane Mode. Siri might also give up some of your information, though the assistant will ask for authentication after a few basic requests.
It might be smarter to leave regular notifications on, and disable specific apps on a case-by-case basis. You can revoke an app’s permissions to put notifications on your lock screen under Settings > Notifications.
Remember to Delete Stock Apps
There was once a time when you had to hide all unwanted stock applications in a folder, then bury the folder on your last home screen. But those days are gone. In iOS 11 and newer, you can delete most stock apps as you would any other app. Just tap and hold until everything wiggles, then tap the X in the corner.
That includes apps like Calendar, Stocks, Reminders, Music, Contacts, and even Mail. You can download any of these apps again from the App Store at any time—just search for them by name. However, you still can’t remove some “core” apps, like the App Store, Safari, Phone, and Clock.
What You Can’t Hide (Yet) on iPhone
Apple still has work to do on the privacy side of iOS. At the moment, it’s not possible to hide apps entirely, nor can you lock apps behind a passcode. You can’t hide mail accounts without deleting them entirely, nor can you lock or hide Reminders lists.
The best way to keep your iPhone private is to keep the device itself protected. Don’t let other people touch your phone, especially if you don’t trust them. Take precautions against embarrassing notifications, put sensitive information in sufficiently secure locations, and keep your phone securely in your purse or pocket.
If you need further privacy, you can disable some features entirely using iOS restrictions. These are designed as parental controls, but you can use them to remove Apple Music’s social integrations, the iTunes Store, or even the ability to delete apps or make in-app purchases.