Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
We all know that the government is collecting information from your phone, and that companies are too. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do about most of it. However, you might be voluntarily giving away a lot more data than you realize, and there is something you can do about that.
By tweaking the settings on your iPhone or iPad, you can minimize the amount of data that you’re giving away. It certainly won’t keep your information as private as something like a burner phone will, but when you have limited options, a little is better than none!
Stop Sending Data to Apple
You might remember from when you set up your iPhone or iPad, that Apple asks for permission to collect “Diagnostics & Usage” data from your device, including some information that will be sent to app developers. While this data is used to track bugs, discover issues, and speed up the process for getting them fixed, you might not feel comfortable with Apple collecting data from your device. To stop it, just head to Settings.
From there, go to Privacy > Diagnostics & Usage; to disable the sending of this data, make sure that Don’t Send is checked. If you want to see the sorts of data that are collected for reporting, you can tap on Diagnostics & Usage Data. You might not understand much (or any) of what you find there, but you could get an idea of the apps that send out reports. If you see an entry that starts with “awdd,” you’ll know that Apple has received a Diagnostics & Usage report from your device.
In general, what’s sent in these reports are system events, like app crashes, performance stats, and other analytical pieces of information.
Keep in mind that developers really do appreciate the data that they get from this option, and that they put it to good use in finding and eradicating bugs in their apps. I wasn’t able to find any information on the types of data that developers are allowed or able to collect with this option, but there are other options that you can disable to make sure they’re not getting any potentially sensitive information.
Lock Down Location Services
This is a big one: you’re giving away a lot of very valuable information (not to mention a potentially big slice of your battery) by letting apps track your location. Many of them might even be tracking your whereabouts when they’re closed, which they have no business doing. To see which apps are using Location Services, head to Settings > Privacy > Location Services.
Now, scroll through the list of apps and see which ones have “While Using” and “Always” listed next to them: these are the ones that have access to your location. You’ll probably see a few that are getting location information that don’t need it, and you might see a few apps that you don’t use anymore that are collecting that data. Delete apps or turn off Location Services access until you’re comfortable with who you’re sharing your location with.
At the very bottom of the list, you’ll see System Services, which lets you look at other things that could be using your location, for things like location-based alerts and iAds, Safari and Spotlight suggestions, automatic time zone selection, and other similar things. Again, enable and disable these until you feel comfortable with what you’ve selected. Be sure to hit Frequent Locations and turn it off to keep your iPhone or iPad from learning where you go on a regular basis.
At the bottom of the System Services screen, you can also turn on the status bar icon that will tell you when Location Services is being used by one of the above services.
Alternatively, you can turn Location Services off. This prevents apps from monitoring your location, but you might also lose some pretty great functionality. You’ll have to weigh the benefits and drawbacks for yourself. The best way is to turn it off for a couple days and see which apps don’t perform as well.
Limit Ad Tracking
Back in the Privacy menu, you’ll see the Advertising option near the bottom of the screen. Tap that and turn Limit Ad Tracking on. iAd, Apple’s advertising platform, can use information like your name and address; the music, apps, and movies you download; the topics and publications you follow in the News app; Offers you choose to add to the Wallet app; and information from other apps if developers have enabled it to assign you to an advertising target group.
That’s a lot of information that could be collected and used to send you very specific ads. And while that might not worry you, it also means that a lot of information about you and how you use your phone is sitting on someone’s server somewhere.
Unless you really appreciate the ads you get served by Apple, you should limit ad tracking.
Check Other Permissions
The Privacy screen also lists a bunch of other things that apps may have requested access to: things like your camera, microphone, photos, media library, health information, social accounts, and so on. It might seem like overkill, but you should look through each of these and remove permissions that you don’t need. Does the AliExpress app need access to your camera? Does Google Maps need access to your microphone? Does Bandsintown need access to your contacts?
It’s a good idea to remember that a lot of these permissions are really useful. Giving Evernote access to your photos means you can insert images into your notes. Giving Buffer access to Facebook lets it creates posts for you. Giving LinkedIn access to your contacts will help keep your address books up to date.
And, for the most part, you can be confident that none of your apps are maliciously collecting data. However, if you’re concerned about how much of your information passes through corporate servers, you may want to pare down the access that’s given to the apps on your phone.
Even though Safari doesn’t collect much of your data, you can tweak the settings and how you use it to minimize the amount of data that you give away. First, head to Settings > Safari and enable Do Not Track and Fraudulent Website Warning. You’ll also want to set Block Cookies to Allow from Websites I Visit or Allow from Current Website Only. All of these settings will make it a little less likely that advertisers will be able to track your behavior online.
And when you use Safari, use Private mode, the browser’s equivalent of Chrome’s Incognito Mode. It doesn’t solve all privacy issues, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Just remember that private browsing doesn’t mean you’re not being tracked.
Turn Off Your Wi-Fi
The Wi-Fi signals given off from your phone can occasionally give away location information even if you have Location Services turned completely off, so you may want to think twice about leaving Wi-Fi on when you leave the house.
Malls and retail stores have started to track customers through the location of their phones in the store, and many of these systems use Wi-Fi beacons to monitor your position. If you want to minimize the possibility of this happening, you should turn off your Wi-Fi when you’re in malls or stores. And if you don’t plan on using Wi-Fi while you’re out, you could turn it off whenever you leave the house.
Of course, you’ll want it on in some places — like if you’re going to be working at a coffee shop, for example — but you can make that decision on a case-by-case basis.
Protect Your Privacy
It’s impossible to protect all of your information on your iPhone or iPad, but you can take some important steps toward limiting the kinds of data that are shared and who gets access to them. By tweaking the settings above and developing some security-conscious habits, like using Private browsing, you can reduce the amount of data that you’re giving away as much as possible.
Are you concerned about the amount of data collected from your iPhone or iPad? Do you keep a close eye on the privacy settings listed above, or you can you just not be bothered? What other measures do you take to protect your privacy? Share your thoughts below!