How to Protect Private Info Stored on Your iPhone

Here's how to keep your personal information private on your iPhone

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With all the personal information — emails, phone numbers, addresses, and financial details — stored on iPhones, iPhone privacy must be taken seriously. That's why you should set up Find My iPhone and know what to do if your iPhone is lost or stolen. Other ways to control the privacy of your data are also available.

Information in this article applies to iPhones running iOS 12 or iOS 11 unless noted otherwise.

Find the Privacy Settings in iOS

In the past, several high-profile apps were caught uploading information from users' phones to their servers without permission. Apple added features that control which apps have access to the data on the iPhone (and the iPod touch, iPad, and Apple Watch). Most of these features are available in the iPhone Privacy settings.

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To keep current with the privacy settings on your iPhone, check the Privacy area each time you install a new app to see whether it wants access to your personal information.

To find the privacy settings, tap the Settings app and select Privacy. The Privacy screen includes elements of the iPhone that contain personal information that apps can gain access to, including Location Services, Contacts, and Calendars.

Protect Location Data on iPhone

Location Services are the GPS features of the iPhone that show exactly where you are, provide directions, find nearby restaurants, and more. Location Services enable many helpful features of the phone, but these features also allow your movements to be tracked.

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Location Services are turned on by default, but you should check out your options. Keep some services turned on but turn off others to protect your privacy and reduce battery and wireless data usage.

In the Privacy screen, tap Location Services to see the options.

  • Location Services: This is the basic GPS feature of the phone. Leave it on to use the GPS features to get driving directions from an online map or to geotag photos, for example. Turn it off to disable GPS and many core features of the iPhone.
  • Share My Location: Sends the GPS location of your device to family members who are part of your Family Sharing group. Great to use when one family member needs directions to where another is. For other location-sharing options, check out how to use Find My Friends for iPhone and iPad and how to share your location on an iPhone or iPad. (This applies to iOS 8 and up.)
  • Apps: This is a list of apps that can access your location information. These apps may geotag photos (embed the geographic location at which you took the photo) or use your location to recommend nearby restaurants or stores. While useful, not all apps need your location to function, and you may not want all apps knowing where you are. To control access to your location, tap each app and choose to allow it to know where you are Always, Never, or While Using the app. Blocking an app from knowing your location could remove some of its features.
  • System Services: Low-level system services provide many features to iOS and the apps. They also use battery life when they work in the background and use data. Here's what they do:
    • Cell Network Search: Locates 3G and 4G cellular networks.
    • Compass Calibration: Enables the iPhone built-in compass to locate your direction accurately. It is used by map apps, among other things.
    • Emergency Calls & SOS: Place calls to emergency services by quickly clicking the side button five times. This sends your location to the emergency dispatchers to help them reach you. (Available in iOS 8 and up.)
    • Find My iPhone: This setting permits Find My iPhone to access GPS to report the location of a lost or stolen phone so you can track it.
    • HomeKit: Learns the location of your home and shares that information with HomeKit-compatible devices. Use HomeKit to automatically turn on the lights when you walk into the house. (Applies to iOS 9 and up.)
    • Location-Based Alerts: Gives permission for the phone to receive alerts and notifications based on where you are — a feature often used by retail shops and stadiums with iBeacons.
    • Location-Based Apple Ads: Uses your location to help apps deliver ads based on where you are.
    • Location-Based Suggestions: Recommends apps you might want to use based on where your phone is, such as recommending a retail store's app when you're in the store. (Applies to iOS 10 and up.)
    • Motion Calibration & Distance: Used by the phone's built-in motion-tracking chip and features. If you want to use your iPhone as a pedometer, for example, leave this turned on. 
    • Setting Time Zone: Automatically updates the phone's time zone based on its geographic location.
    • Share My Location: This setting enables location sharing. (Applies to iOS 8 and up.)
    • Spotlight Suggestions: The Spotlight search tool suggests all kinds of content in its results, including apps used by others near you. (Applies to iOS 8 and 9 only.)
    • Wi-Fi Calling: Uses your location to support the Wi-Fi Calling feature. Enable this feature if you use Wi-Fi Calling. (Applies to iOS 9 and up.)
    • Wi-Fi Networking: Finds nearby Wi-Fi networks and sends information about these network to Apple to help the company build a database of open Wi-Fi networks. It is also used for mapping and directions purposes.
    • Significant Locations: This feature, called Frequent Locations in older versions of iOS, tracks the places you go most often to learn your habits and give you better directions and recommendations. Apple uses this information to improve the accuracy of its Maps app. Tap it to turn off the feature or view your recent locations and clear your history.

In the Product Improvement section farther down the screen, are:

  • iPhone Analytics: Sends data about your use of GPS features to Apple to help improve those features. It is called Diagnostics & Usage in older versions of the iOS.
  • Popular Near Me: Uses your location to recommend things to you.
  • Routing & Traffic: Supplies information to the Maps app about traffic conditions based on where you are.
  • Improve Maps: Sends Maps-related data to Apple to improve the accuracy and reliability of that tool. 

Below that, there's a single slider:

  • Status Bar Icon: Want to know when these services or other apps access your location? Move this slider to green to place an icon at the top of the screen when they are active.

Protect Data Stored in Apps on iPhone

Many apps want to use the data stored in the iPhone built-in apps, such as Contacts or Photos. You may want to allow this — many third-party photos apps need access to your photo library to be useful — but it's worth checking out which apps are asking for information.

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If you don't see anything listed on these screens, none of the apps you installed have asked for access.

View these settings in the main privacy settings screen, accessible at Settings > Privacy.

Contacts, Calendars, and Reminders

For these three sections, you can control what third-party apps can access the Contacts, Calendar, and Reminders apps. Move the sliders to Off/white for apps you don't want to have access to the data. Denying some apps access to your data may affect how they work.

Photos and Camera

These two options work the same way. The apps listed on the screen want access to the Camera app or the pictures in the Photos app. Some photos may have embedded data such as the GPS location where you took them, depending on your Location Services settings. You might not be able to see this data, but apps can. Turn off app access to your photos with sliders, though doing that may limit their features.

The Photos and Notes apps also give you ways to hide photos for privacy. Learn about How to Hide Photos On iPhone.

Media & Apple Music

Some apps want to access the music and other media stored in the built-in Music app. This could be music you synced to the phone or downloaded from Apple Music. This setting is called Media Library in some older versions of iOS.

Health

The Health app, a centralized repository of health data from apps and devices such as personal fitness trackers, was introduced in iOS 8. Use this setting to control which apps have access to that data. Tap each app to reveal the options for the data that each app can access in Health.

HomeKit

HomeKit allows app and hardware developers to make connected devices — such as the Nest thermostat or Philips Hue lights — that have deep integration with the iPhone and its built-in Home app. This section controls preferences for these apps and devices and the data they can access.

Advanced Features That Protect Private Info on iPhone

Some apps want access to advanced features or hardware components on the iPhone, such as the microphone. As with all of these settings, granting this access can be important for how the apps work, but make sure you know which apps are able to listen to you speak.

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Bluetooth Sharing

Since files can be shared through Bluetooth using AirDrop, some apps want permission to do that. Control which apps can transmit files from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch via Bluetooth by moving the slider next to each app to On/green or Off/white.

Microphone

Apps can access the microphone on an iPhone to listen to what's being said around you and potentially record it. This is great for an audio note-taking app, but it presents security risks. Control the apps that can use the microphone by moving the slider next to each app to On/green or Off/white.

Speech Recognition

In iOS 10 and up, the iPhone supports more powerful speech recognition features than ever before. Speak to your iPhone and apps to interact with them. Apps that want to take advantage of these features show up on this screen.

Motion & Fitness

This setting is only available on devices that have the Apple M-series motion co-processor chip (the iPhone 5S and up). The M chips help these devices track your physical movements — steps taken or flights of stairs walked — so that apps can use the data to track exercise, provide directions, and other uses. Tap this menu to see a list of the apps that seek access to this data and make your choices.

Social Media Accounts

If you log into Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, or Flickr from iOS, use this setting to control which apps can access these accounts. Giving apps access to your social media accounts means they may be able to read your posts or post automatically. Keep this feature on by leaving the slider at green or turn it off by moving it to white.

This setting was removed from recent versions of the iOS. Logging into social media through the OS is no longer available.

Analytics

Apple uses this setting, formerly known as Diagnostics & Usage, to send reports of how the iPhone is working to its engineers to improve its products. Your information is anonymous so Apple doesn't know specifically who it's coming from.

You may or may not prefer to share this information, but if you do, tap this menu to see the types of data being collected. Share the ones you want by leaving the sliders set to On/green and disable sharing by moving sliders to Off/white. To block all analytics sharing, move the Share iPhone & Watch Analytics slider to Off/white.

You also have the option to review the data you've sent in the Analytics Data menu.

Advertising

Advertisers can track your movements around the web and the ads you see. They do this to get information about how to sell to you and to give you ads that are targeted to you.

To reduce the amount of ad tracking that happens, move the Limit Ad Tracking slider to On/green. This isn't a foolproof privacy tactic — sites and advertisers have to voluntarily respect the setting — but it works in some cases.

To view the information Apple uses to show ads in Apple News and the App Store, tap View Ad Information.

Security and Privacy Settings on the Apple Watch

The Apple Watch adds a new level of consideration for personal data privacy and security. With it, there's a ton of important personal data sitting on your wrist.

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Here's how to protect it.

  • On iPhone: The majority of the privacy and security settings used on iPhone apply to the Apple Watch. The Watch inherits the iPhone settings; you don't have to think about them or set them individually. The setting can only be changed on the iPhone.
  • On Apple Watch: There is one kind of personal data that the Apple Watch collects that has individual settings: Motion & Fitness, the health and activity data collected by the Watch. To change those settings, on the iPhone tap the Watch app and select Privacy. Leave the Heart Rate and Fitness Tracking sliders set to On/green to allow other apps to access this data or move them to Off/white to block access. Which you choose is determined by the fitness tracking apps you use. If you only use Apple's Health and Activity apps, you can turn these off. To use third-party apps, leave them on.

Other Recommended iPhone Security Measures

Mastering the options in the Privacy section of the Settings app is crucial for taking control of your data, but it's not the only step.

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Other security and privacy steps include:

  • Set a passcode: Keep people out of your iPhone unless they know this 4- or 6-character (or more) code.
  • Use Touch ID or Face ID: These security measures make passcodes more secure by requiring your fingerprint or face scan to unlock the phone. Learn how to set up Touch ID or learn how to set up Face ID.
  • Enable Find My iPhone: Not only does this track a lost or stolen phone, but you can also use it to remotely delete your data from a phone you think you're not going to get back.