ios security privacy settings

In 2019, Tim Cook took to Congress to advocate for privacy laws. Even on their website, Apple boasts, You have control over what you share. But if you don’t know how to utilize iPhone privacy settings to their full potential, you remain vulnerable to invasive advertising, tracking, hacking, and similar threats.

As it’s getting increasingly difficult to have full privacy in the digitalization age, I’ll walk you through ways to feel at ease with your iPhone in hand. In this guide, I’ll talk about what information your apps, websites, and Apple itself can access, as well as showing you how to configure various iPhone privacy settings: location, photo sharing, Bluetooth tracking, password managing, message previews, ad-tracking, Safari, Maps, and more.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

Pay attention to the data that your apps want to access

Settings > Privacy

Apple makes it convenient to decide what personal information you want to share with your apps by putting privacy settings in one place.

How does it work? Once an app requests access to your location, camera, microphone, photos, contacts, or other data, the app will be put in one of the categories where you can grant or deny them access with a couple of clicks.

For example, I don’t want or need any of the apps to have access to the microphone, so I have all of them switched off (as pictured below).

apps not using location


If you want to change privacy settings on individual apps, like Facebook, WhatsApp, or Google Chrome, go to Settings and scroll down to the list of apps. They’re displayed in alphabetical order. Click on the app and adjust privacy settings to your liking.

Pre-installed iPhone apps like Calendar and Reminders also ask you to grant or deny access to certain information. Apple values its users’ privacy, and they continue to prove it.

So, let’s get more into the details regarding privacy settings on the iPhone.

Take control over iPhone’s location settings to increase privacy

Settings > Privacy > Location Services

Most apps will ask you to access your location. However, not every app needs it to function. While it’s probably smart to allow Maps, car rental, and similar apps to locate you, such apps as Camera or Instagram don’t need it.

You can tinker with location configurations for each app separately in your iPhone’s settings. When you click on Location Services, you’ll see an entire list of apps that have asked permission to access location. Next to the app is the current configuration.

For example, I’ve allowed my Wallet and Weather apps to use my location when I’m using these apps. Wallet app asks for permission because the location is used to show relevant passes, set up Apple Pay, and improve details. I use Apple Pay and trust the app; thus, I allow it to access my location.

Wallet and Weather apps using location

See that arrow icon next to “While Using”? Pay attention to these arrows because they show you how apps are utilizing your location.

Apps utilizing location

Go through your apps and make a decision based on your needs. Don’t be afraid to disable location access to apps – even if it’s all of them. You can go back and change the settings whenever you want.

I suggest going through location settings once in a while, especially if you often install new apps. There’s no such thing as being too careful.

go through location settings once in a while

Disable Bluetooth tracking where it’s unnecessary

Settings > Privacy > Bluetooth

Some third-party apps can be sneaky. Instead of directly asking for access to your location data, they’ll tap into your Bluetooth. That way, they can use Bluetooth not only to acquire your location data but also to get a hold of other details. Such as what devices you currently have configured to use Bluetooth.

IOS13 now requires you to grant permission every time an app tries to access Bluetooth. Some apps work with Bluetooth devices – like your Fitbit – and you’ll need to give that permission for them to function. However, when something like Facebook asks for it, it should raise some questions.

Users have reported no changes in functionality if Bluetooth authorization is denied, so you should consider whether an app really needs access to it. 

Disable Bluetooth tracking where it’s unnecessary

Protect your privacy when sharing photos

Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Camera

If your iPhone’s OS is at least IOS13, you can remove location data from your photo metadata.

Most people don’t realize that when you take a photo with your iPhone, it stores your location in the photograph’s metadata. This is a tremendous privacy and security issue: that metadata is sent to anyone you send the picture to, including your social media accounts. Criminals can extract your photo’s metadata and find the location of your home and work, all based on your social media pictures.

There’s a way to store the location data in pictures for your personal use while also stripping it out when uploading to social media:

  • When sharing directly to Social Media from your Photo or Camera app, select “Options” at the top of the screen.
  • Turn off Location under “Include”.

Some apps can also ask you to access just one photo instead of your entire album, which makes iPhone privacy even stronger.

Protect your privacy when sharing photos

How security code autofill makes two-factor authentication better

How security code autofill makes two-factor authentication betterTwo-factor authentication (2FA) is a way of signing into your accounts using not only a password but also a unique one-time code that is usually sent to your phone number, email, or 2FA authentication app..

In the times of weak passwords that people reuse for multiple accounts, it’s crucial to have an extra layer of protection against hackers and thieves. People tend to understand that, but 2FA can seem like a hassle. And it’s all because of constant switching through apps: you have to type in the code on top of a password.

That’s why Apple introduced security code autofill in order to encourage people to use two-factor authentication. You don’t have to do anything to enable it, as it’s built-in iOS12 and higher.

If you’re not using 2FA yet, I’d strongly recommend you start doing it.

Create strong passwords that you don’t need to remember

Settings > Passwords & Accounts > Website & App Passwords

Since I’ve just mentioned weak passwords, let’s talk about it in more detail. Just like most people, I was guilty of using simpler passwords (and reusing them) because they’re easier to remember.

However, your iPhone can take care of such problems.

  1. When you’re signing up for a new account on your iPhone, it automatically suggests a complicated password. Click “Use Strong Password” and iOS will immediately store it in the Keychain.
  2. Access your Keychain by going to Settings > Passwords & Accounts > Website & App Passwords.
  3. Make sure you also enable the Autofill Passwords feature (Settings > Passwords & Accounts > Autofill Passwords).

Create strong passwords that you don’t need to remember

Avoid reusing passwords with a built-in iPhone feature

In the section Website & App Password, you might see an exclamation point next to the domain name. It means that you’re using this password for multiple accounts. Of course, to get the most accurate picture of your password reusing, you’ll need to put as many credentials in the Keychain as you can.

Naturally, if you see an exclamation mark there, change the password – you won’t have to memorize it anyway.

Manage message previews on a locked screen

Settings > Notifications > Messages > Show Previews

When anyone can see the preview of a message on your locked phone screen, it can create situations that are more severe than eavesdropping. If a thief gets ahold of your phone, it can escalate into more significant privacy and security problems.

That’s why Apple allows you to choose how you want your notifications displayed.

The same goes for any other messaging apps that you use, be it WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or something else. Select an app from the list, and in the Show Previews section, pick the most suitable option for you.

Manage message previews on a locked screen

Wrong password ten times? Automatically erase all data

Settings > Face ID & Passcode (or Touch ID & Passcode) > Erase Data

There’s a feature on your iPhone that is activated when your phone password is typed incorrectly ten times in a row. All of your data will wipe itself out of the iPhone immediately after the tenth unsuccessful attempt if you enable the Erase Data feature.

I know this feature is pretty extreme, but you’ll thank yourself if your phone gets in the hands of someone shady.

Automatically erase all data

Limit Ad Tracking by changing iPhone privacy settings

Settings > Privacy > Advertising > Limit Ad Tracking

Targeted ads can feel like an ultimate invasion of privacy. Sometimes it almost seems like someone can read your mind. Don’t worry, though, they can’t. But you can still take your privacy in your own hands by minimizing personalized ads.

If you disable this feature, Apple will continue showing you ads in the App Store, Apple News, and Stocks app. But the ads will be neutral instead of tailored to your interests.

Limit Ad Tracking by changing iPhone privacy settings

How Safari offers more privacy than you might think

Settings > Safari

Do you use Safari as the main browser on your iPhone? If so, continue doing it. This is how Apple’s default browser protects your privacy:

  1. Safari uses Intelligent Tracking Prevention that prevents you from getting targeted ads. If you look at a product in an e-shop and don’t buy it, it will not follow you around the web. Intelligent Tracking Prevention works by separating third-party content from other browsing information. Settings > Safari > Prevent Cross-Site Tracking.
  2. Safari blocks social widgets (like buttons, share buttons, comment fields) from tracking you.
  3. Safari protects you from fingerprinting. Advertisers and websites can’t create a “fingerprint” to track you using your device and browser configurations, as well as plug-ins you have installed.
  4. Use Private Browsing to avoid tracking. The Private Browsing mode is like the Incognito Mode on Chrome. The browser doesn’t save your search history or any personal information you fill out, including log-in details and passwords.
  5. Use the DuckDuckGo search engine. Google is still Safari’s default search engine, but if you feel it would be safer to go for an alternative option, there’s DuckDuckGo. How to enable it? Settings > Safari > Search Engine > DuckDuckGo.

How Safari offers more privacy than you might think

How Apple’s Maps enhances your iPhone’s privacy

Settings > Maps

If you’re not using Apple’s Maps as your default maps app, you might want to rethink that decision.

  1. The Maps app doesn’t require signing in, so it’s not associated with your Apple ID.
  2. Your iPhone sends data to the Maps app using random identifiers. Your search queries, traffic information, and other data are not stored or collected by Apple. Those random identifiers reset themselves while you use the app, making your experience with Maps more private.
  3. Apple uses end-to-end encryption to ensure your privacy. Everything you search for and save on Maps is encrypted so that Apple can’t access that information.
  4. Maps extensions don’t compromise your privacy. The Maps app does the most to share as little information as possible with third-party ride-booking (and similar) apps. If you give an app permission to access Maps, it only shares your starting point and the destination.

How Apple’s Maps enhances your iPhone’s privacy

Decide what data you want to share with Apple

Settings > Privacy > Analytics & Improvement

It’s up to you to decide whether you want to share analytics, crash data, diagnostics, and similar statistics with Apple to help improve iPhone’s software.

Apple claims that the data you share is entirely anonymous, but if you’re extra cautious about all privacy settings, you can always disable sharing.

Decide what data you want to share with Apple

Use privacy apps (VPNs) on iPhone

I’ve walked you through various ways to improve your iPhone privacy settings by limiting what personal information is shared with app developers, advertisers, and even Apple itself.

When it comes to protecting your data, you should take care of your privacy online as well. The most effective way to do that is to get a VPN, as it brings you closer to digital anonymity by masking your real IP address. Simply put, an IP address gives away your location, as well as information about your device, like an operating system and browser you use, and even your internet service provider.

Get a VPN that doesn’t log your data. Here at Surfshark, we have a strict no-logs policy that prohibits us from collecting information about your browsing activity/history, IP address, used bandwidth, session information, network traffic, and connection timestamps. 


I hope that after reading this article, you can improve your iPhone privacy settings. Overall, Apple’s emphasis on security and privacy does set the bar for other operating systems. However, it’s also a demonstration of how many security issues can exist and persist over the years of development. When Apple can’t – or won’t – protect your data, get Surfshark VPN to help. It’s more than just a tool for accessing geo-locked content – it keeps your data secure from snooping ISPs and criminals monitoring WiFi hotspot traffic. Apple is encrypting your Notes – get Surfshark to encrypt the rest of the data you transmit online.

Complement iPhone privacy with a VPN

Choose Surfshark to protect you online

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