How to Limit Ad Tracking on iPhone and iPad

Keep advertisers from following you around the internet

Have you ever noticed that ads follow you around the internet? Often, ads for the same products appear on various sites you visit. Ad tracking is the culprit. If you don't like the idea of advertisers following you around the web, your iPhone and iPad have built-in settings to help. And Apple's iOS 14.5 update gives you more power to stop apps from tracking you.

What Is Ad Tracking?

Ad tracking is a set of technologies that advertisers, websites, and apps employ to learn about users, track them around the internet, and serve relevant ads to them. Ad trackers are small pieces of code placed on your computer, iPhone, or iPad. Advertisers can read the code to learn about your online behaviors and interests, and use what they learn to show you ads they think you'll be interested in.

Illustration of advertising on laptop and phone

Tiago_Garcia / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Limiting Ad Tracking Isn't the Same as Ad Blocking

Not wanting to be watched by advertisers is why people limit ad tracking. It's important to understand this isn't the same as blocking ads. When you block ad tracking, you're stopping advertisers from tracking you and collecting data about you, but you'll still see ads. Limiting ad tracking is about privacy.

Some Drawbacks to Limiting Ad Tracking

While limiting ad tracking may sound like a good idea, it does have a few drawbacks:

  • Cookies: One of the best ways to block ad tracking is to block cookies, which are small files websites put on your device. Block them (on your iPhone, go to Settings > Safari > Block All Cookies), but we don't recommend it. If you don't accept cookies, you won't be able to use beneficial features of websites, such as having a site remember you're logged in.
  • Ads Are Less Relevant: Blocking ad trackers means the ads you see won't be targeted to you. Sometimes, relevant ads can introduce you to a product or service you want. Without ad tracking, you'll be less likely to see these ads.

How the iOS Ad Tracking Transparency Feature Works

Apple's iOS 14.5 update introduced Ad Tracking Transparency (ATT). ATT requires an app to get your explicit permission before tracking your activity. This even applies to Apple's apps. If you don't give permission, the app can't use your information to serve up targeted ads. It also can't share your location and activity with other advertisers.

To access this feature, your device will need to have the iOS 14.5 update. Then, open a recently updated app or an app you haven't used since the 14.5 update. You'll see a pop-up that says "Allow [app name] to track your activity across other companies' apps and websites?" The pop-up may say something about how allowing this tracking will help them deliver personalized ads to you.

Tap Allow if you're OK with the app tracking your activity. Tap Ask App Not to Track to opt out of tracking for this app.

App Tracking permission feature on an iPhone

If you don't want to deal with apps on a case-by-case basis and are sure you'd prefer no apps to track your activity across other apps and websites, there's an easy way to opt-out of tracking entirely. Go to Settings > Privacy > Tracking, then toggle off Allow Apps to Request to Track.

iPhone settings with Privacy, Tracking, and opting out of App activity tracking highlighted

To monitor and control apps that have requested to track you, go to Settings > Privacy > Tracking to see apps that requested to track you. Tap an app to change its tracking permissions.

Limit Apple Targeted Advertising

Apple's advertising platform doesn't track your activity across apps and websites. It does, however, use ad targeting to try to serve you ads based on searches and queries you've made in the App Store or types of stories your read on Apple News. If you prefer to limit Apple's ability to serve you targeted apps, here's what to do:

Note that this won't block Apple from serving you ads; you just won't see ads Apple personalizes to your data.

  1. Go to Settings > Privacy.

  2. Tap Apple Advertising.

  3. Toggle off Personalized Ads to limit Apple's ad targeting to serve you ads in the App Store app and Apple News.

    iPhone Privacy Settings highlighting "Apple Advertising" and the Personalized ad toggle

How to Prevent Cross-Site Tracking

The above information helps you control apps tracking your activity across other companies' apps and websites and helps you limit targeted Apple-served ads. While you can't block 100 percent of ad tracking, there's one more setting that helps you limit ad-tracking across websites you visit in Safari on your iOS device.

Go to Settings > Safari and then scroll down to Privacy & Security. Toggle on Prevent Cross-Site Tracking to stop advertisers from tracking your iOS device from one website to another.

Safari Settings highlighting Prevent Cross-Site Tracking

Using a VPN to Limit Ad Tracking

A particularly effective way to limit ad tracking is to use and set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on your iPhone. A VPN is a special type of internet connection that encrypts all of the data sent between your device and websites in a data "tunnel." Because your connection is in this "tunnel," ad trackers can't get in and track you. You have to pay each month for a VPN, but there are many benefits to using them.

Blocking Ads and Ad Tracking With iPhone and iPad Apps

Another way to limit ad tracking on your iPhone or iPad is to block ads altogether. There are a number of apps you can install on your device to block ads (and ad trackers).

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