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How To Properly Set Up Your Privacy Settings on iPhones

Your iPhone’s default privacy settings are relatively strong, but they can leave you vulnerable to data losses and hacking — unless you make these changes.

Your iPhone’s default privacy settings are relatively strong, but they can leave you vulnerable to data losses and hacking — unless you make these changes.

Illustration of an iPhone casting a shadow in the shape of a question mark

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      How Do You Make Your iPhone More Private and Secure?

      Using an iPhone can be a nightmare from a security and privacy standpoint. Threats range from excessive data collected by app developers to hacking and exploitation of your sensitive photos and videos. It is therefore essential that you make your iPhone as secure as possible. 

      While Apple has a good history of privacy-focused updates, there are some essential settings you need to change in order to protect your privacy, identity, and data. 

      In this guide, we’ll explain what privacy features are available on your iPhone and how you can update your device’s settings to make it as secure as possible. 


      What Do Privacy Settings Do on iPhones?

      Privacy settings safeguard the personal data collected and stored on Apple smartphones, iPads, and Apple Watches. On your iPhone, these settings provide granular control over how Apple and other apps access and use your information.

      The Privacy & Security settings screen in iOS showing location services turned on
      Most privacy options can be found in your iPhone’s “Privacy & Security” settings.

      For example, you might share your location with ride-share apps like Uber and Lyft. Or, you may share your contacts with alternate messaging apps such as Telegram or Discord. 

      While sharing some personal information may be safe, sharing too much can put your data and online identity at risk. 

      Here are just a few of the benefits you can get from updating your iPhone’s default Privacy & Security settings:

      • Prevent people from accessing your Apple devices. You can enable stronger passwords, biometric security, and other settings that will help lock down your phone in case someone steals it or tries to access it without your permission.
      • Stop apps from collecting too much data on you. In the App Tracking section of your iPhone’s Privacy & Security settings, you can see whether an app is tracking your activity across other company apps and websites. Toggling “Allow Apps to Request to Track” will prompt you to accept or decline tracking whenever you download a new app.
      • Stop sharing your location. Sharing your location data can increase the number of localized ads you get, enable scammers to impersonate you online, or even put you in physical danger. In your Location settings, you can turn off Location Services, choose never to share your location with an app, or only share your location while you’re using an app.
      • Protect you while browsing online or sending emails and texts. After you set up a strong passcode, your iMessage and FaceTime conversations are protected with end-to-end encryption. And if you enable Private Browsing, Safari won’t store your search history, AutoFill information, or pages you visit. You can also hide your IP address to protect emails that you send via the Mail app.
      • Help you avoid hacking and identity theft if your phone gets lost or stolen. If your device is lost or stolen, you can activate Lost Mode to lock it remotely. For day-to-day use, Lockdown Mode decreases the chances of hacking — with safer media handling, media sharing, wireless connectivity defaults, and network security.

      The bottom line: By default, your iPhone skews towards functionality over privacy — this means that you may be sharing more data than you realize. By changing a few simple settings, you can make your device more secure and private.

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      14 iPhone Privacy Settings You Need To Update

      1. Set a strong six-digit passcode
      2. Consider disabling face or fingerprint identification
      3. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on your Apple ID
      4. Use “Sign in with Apple” for most accounts
      5. Limit what shows up on your lock screen
      6. Check your app permissions
      7. Turn on automatic updates for iOS and apps
      8. Disable ad tracking
      9. Set up an iPhone virtual private network (VPN)
      10. Make sure “Find My iPhone” is set up properly
      11. Block mail tracking
      12. Use Apple’s Safety Check feature
      13. Control what data Siri can access
      14. Turn off “Airdrop” until you need to use it

      Updating your iPhone’s Settings app does more than protect your privacy — it can be essential if your iPhone gets hacked or someone steals it and tries to access your accounts and personal information. 

      Here are 14 privacy settings you should update today:

      1. Set a strong six-digit passcode

      Creating a strong passcode is one of the best ways to secure your phone — whether it gets stolen, lost, or if you don’t want strangers (or people you know) accessing it without your permission.

      iOS Face ID & Passcode settings screen with options to turn off or change your phone’s passcode
      A six-digit passcode is one of the best ways to keep your phone secure and private.

      How to set up a strong passcode on an iPhone:

      • Enable passcodes on your iPhone. Go to Settings and then Face ID & Passcode (or Touch ID & Passcode on older models). Then, tap on Turn On or Change Passcode.
      • Choose a secure passcode. Don’t pick a guessable set of numbers like your birthday, debit card pin code, or anniversary. If scammers know anything about you, those numbers will be first on their list to try when hacking your phone.
      • Change the time duration in which your iPhone automatically locks. The shorter the time, the better. Go to the Display & Brightness area of settings, and then scroll down to Auto-Lock and adjust the time to as little as 30 seconds.

      2. Consider disabling face or fingerprint identification 

      Fingerprint and Face ID may seem like more secure options for locking your iPhone — but they can actually make you more vulnerable in some cases. 

      U.S. state courts are torn on whether unlocking fingerprint and Face ID violates the Fifth Amendment. In some states, like Illinois, law enforcement can force you to unlock your phone [*]. Until there’s a federal decision, you might be better off with only a passcode.

      How to turn off Touch ID:

      • Settings → Face ID & Passcode.
      • Enter your passcode.
      • Turn off one or more options.

      How to turn off Face ID:

      • Settings → Face ID & Passcode.
      • Enter your passcode.
      • Turn off Face ID for: iPhone Unlock, iTunes & App Store, Wallet & Apple Pay, Password AutoFill, and Other Apps.

      3. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on your Apple ID

      Your Apple ID is one of your most sensitive accounts, as it contains critical personal and financial information. To prevent hackers from accessing your Apple ID, make sure you have two-factor authentication (2FA) enabled. This is an additional security measure that requires you to enter a secondary code sent to another device (along with your password) when you try to log in. 

      How to turn on two-factor authentication on your Apple ID:

      • Go to Settings and tap on your name.
      • Then tap on Password & Security.
      • Tap on Turn on Two-Factor Authentication.
      • Press continue and follow the instructions.

      Note: Once you enable 2FA on your account, you can only turn it off within two weeks of enrolling. After that, it will stay enabled on your account indefinitely.

      4. Use “Sign in with Apple” for most accounts

      When creating new accounts, you can choose to use your existing social media or email credentials instead of creating brand new ones. “Sign in with Apple” provides the same easy login process — but with the added benefits of Apple security, including:  

      • Preventing tracking while you’re using apps and websites.
      • Restricting apps to your name and email for account setup.
      • Requiring two-factor authentication.
      • Access to “Hide My Email” so you don’t have to provide your personal email address.

      To use “Sign in with Apple”:

      • Tap on the Sign in with Apple button when downloading a new app or creating a new online account.
      • Confirm that your information is correct.
      • Use two-factor authentication to access the app or website.

      Beware that some third-party apps and websites may require you to upgrade your account before you can use Sign in with Apple. On iOS and iPadOS 14 or later, you may be prompted to upgrade if the system detects you have a compromised password or reused password. In that case:

      • Go to SettingsPassword.
      • Tap on the corresponding app or website under Security Recommendations.
      • Tap on Use Sign in with Apple and follow the instructions.

      5. Limit what shows up on your lock screen

      By default, your lock screen displays app notifications and incoming text messages, and allows you to access other widgets. While convenient, these settings can allow people to “spy” on your phone or allow phone thieves to access your controls and notifications.

      iOS Face ID & Passcode settings with options to enable or disable functionality from your phone’s lock screen
      Limiting your phone’s lock screen functionality can help keep messages private and protect your data if your iPhone is lost or stolen.

      You can restrict lock screen actions and visibility by:

      • Going to SettingsFace ID & Passcode (or Touch ID & Passcode on older devices).
      • Restrict access accordingly.

      In addition to adjusting lock screen settings, consider removing any family or other sensitive photos from your lock screen. Scammers who’ve stolen your phone can use your photos to create fake social media profiles and harass your friends and family.

      6. Check your app permissions 

      Depending on the permissions you’ve granted, apps may be able to access your Calendar, Photos, Contacts, and Fitness data.

      While app permissions are often meant to help developers enhance their understanding of your preferences and behavior patterns, if those companies suffer a cyberattack, your personal information could be exposed or leaked on the Dark Web.  

      How to see what permissions your apps currently have:

      • Go to SettingsPrivacy & Security (or just Privacy in iOS 15).
      • Tap on a category, such as Tracking, Bluetooth, or Photos
      • Turn off or update access for any app on the list.

      To get a more comprehensive view of app permissions, run an App Privacy Report:

      • Go to SettingsPrivacy & Security.
      • Scroll down, and tap on App Privacy Report (requires iOS 15.2 or later).
      • Your iPhone will start collecting data about how your apps are using your information.
      • When you’re done, tap on Turn Off App Privacy Report to delete its data.

      7. Turn on automatic updates for iOS and apps

      It’s tempting to turn off software and app updates. But these updates patch critical vulnerabilities in specific apps along with your device’s overall operating system. The longer you ignore these notifications, the higher your chances are of being hacked.

      How to get the latest software updates right away:

      • Go to SettingsGeneralSoftware Update.
      • Tap on Automatic Updates.
      • Under Automatically Install, tap on iOS Updates.
      • Under Automatically Download, tap on iOS Updates.

      How to turn on automatic app updates:

      • Go to SettingsApp Store.
      • Toggle on App Updates.

      Pro tip: Consider enabling automatic updates on your Mac computer, as well. If viruses and malware end up on your laptop, they could easily transfer to your phone when you plug it in to charge or sync.

      • Open the App Store.
      • From the menu bar, click on App StoreSettings (on some Macs, it could be labeled Preferences).
      • Select Automatic Updates.

      💡 Related: Can Macs Get Viruses? How To Remove Malware From Macs

      8. Disable ad tracking

      Most websites have embedded trackers collecting your data. Companies use that data to design tailored ads or sell it to marketers, advertisers, and scammers. 

      iOS Tracking setting screen with the option to “Allow Apps to Request to Track” enabled.
      You can prevent apps from tracking your behavior by disabling the “Allow Apps to Request to Track” setting.

      Even Apple can use your phone activity to display personalized ads. It’s tough to block ad tracking completely without using anti-tracking software, but there are ways to limit it within your iPhone settings.

      First, double-check that ad tracking is turned off:

      • Go to SettingsPrivacy & SecurityTracking.
      • Make sure Allow Apps to Request to Track is disabled. 

      Then, turn off Apple’s personalized ads:

      • Go to SettingsPrivacy & SecurityApple Advertising.
      • Toggle off Personalized Ads.

      Next, prevent cross-site tracking on Safari:

      This setting prevents content providers from tracking your visits from one site to another.

      • Go to Settings → Safari.
      • Turn on Prevent Cross-Site Tracking in the Privacy & Security section. 

      Finally, stop sharing iPhone analytics with Apple:

      This prevents your iPhone from sending crash reports back to Apple, which can include more data than you may want to share with the company — even anonymously. 

      • Go to SettingsPrivacy & SecurityAnalytics & Improvements.
      • Disable Share iPhone Analytics

      💡 Related: Is Norton Privacy Monitor Assistant Worth It?

      9. Set up an iPhone virtual private network (VPN)

      While iPhones come with native malware protection, you’re still vulnerable to cyberattacks on unsecured networks. On iPhones, virtual private networks, or VPNs, use encryption to conceal your browsing history, location, IP address, and other identifiers. This prevents hackers from spying on your shopping or banking activity or intercepting texts and emails over public Wi-Fi.

      iCloud+ users benefit from “Private Relay,” a feature that protects browser traffic and stops network providers from developing a robust user profile. But “Private Relay” is limited to Safari and doesn’t come with other features included with top-rated VPNs — like multi-browser protection, high-speed streaming, and more precise geolocation. 

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      10. Make sure “Find My iPhone” is set up properly

      “Find My” is Apple’s built-in feature to help users find lost iPhones. But if it’s not configured correctly or turned off, you’re out of luck.

      For peace of mind, make sure “Find My” is on:

      • Open Settings → tap on your name.
      • Tap on Find MyFind My [device].
      • Turn on Find My [device].

      You may also want to toggle on Find My Network and Send Last Location. These settings allow you to locate your phone even if it's been powered off or is offline. You can also turn on Location Services to see your lost iPhone on a more precise map.

      11. Block mail tracking

      If you use the Mail app, you’ll want to turn on Mail Privacy Protection. This setting hides your IP address so that advertisers and phishers can’t connect it to your browsing activity or identify your exact location. With Mail Privacy Protection enabled, senders also can’t see whether or not you’ve opened their emails.

      How to turn on Mail Privacy Protection:

      • Go to SettingsMailPrivacy Protection.
      • Toggle on Protect Mail Activity.

      If you’re an iCloud+ user, take advantage of Apple’s “Hide My Email” feature. Instead of giving away your primary email address when subscribing to newsletters or other promotions, you can generate “throwaway” email addresses that forward these emails to your real account.

      12. Use Apple’s “Safety Check” feature

      “Safety Check” provides a fast way to stop sharing your information or change the audience with whom you’re sharing it — crucial steps to take if your phone is lost or stolen. 

      Here are just some examples of what you can adjust through “Safety Check”:

      • Change your passcode.
      • Change your Apple ID password.
      • Reset system privacy permissions for apps.
      • Restrict Messages and FaceTime to your iPhone.

      Unfortunately, “Safety Check” is only available for iPhones on iOS 16 or later, and you must have two-factor authentication set up for your Apple ID.

      How to use “Safety Check”:

      • Make sure you’re signed into Settings (your name should appear at the top of the page).
      • Go to Privacy and SecuritySafety Check.
      • Choose Emergency Reset to reset access for all apps and contacts, or tap on Manage Sharing & Access to change who can access your information.

      13. Control what data Siri can access

      Siri isn’t just Apple’s voice assistant — it also tracks how you use your iPhone to make suggestions based on what it knows about you.

      iOS Siri & Search setting with the option to allow content from notes in Siri searches disabled.
      You can prevent Siri from accessing or revealing your sensitive information by disabling it in each specific app.

      One of the bigger issues with Siri is that its default settings allow Siri to access content from all of your apps. This could mean that it pulls sensitive information from your Notes or other apps, which you might want to remain private. 

      How to block Siri from accessing certain apps:

      • Open SettingsSiri & Search.
      • Scroll down to the list of apps.
      • Select Notes or other apps with sensitive data.
      • Tap to turn off Learn from this app as well as Show Content in Search and both items under the Suggestions section.
      • To delete your Siri history, tap on Siri & Dictation History Delete Siri Dictation History.

      If you don’t want to use Siri at all: Toggle off the Press Side Button for Siri and listen for “Siri” or “Hey Siri.”

      14. Turn off “Airdrop” until you need to use it

      “Airdrop” is useful for quickly sharing files across devices — but it can also be used by malicious actors to send you files that you don’t want. It’s best to keep “Airdrop” disabled until you need to use it. 

      How to disable “Airdrop”:

      • Go to SettingsGeneralAirdrop.
      • Change your settings to Receiving Off.
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      The Bottom Line: Privacy Settings Aren’t Enough

      Your phone holds sensitive information and must be properly secured. iPhone privacy settings offer a good starting point. But they can’t protect you from the harmful effects of phishing scams or data breaches, and they can’t stop your phone from being stolen or hacked.

      For all-encompassing protection, you need a third-party app like Aura. With Aura, you get advanced digital security and privacy tools to keep you safe online. Plus, identity and credit monitoring, a secure password manager, up to $1 million in identity theft insurance, and 24/7 support. 

      Stay safe, private, and secure online. Try Aura risk free today.
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