Last Updated: May 14, 2014
With all the personal information--from emails to phone numbers, addresses to bank account information--stored on our iPhones, it's important to take iPhone privacy seriously. That's why you should always make sure to set up Find My iPhone and know what to do if your iPhone gets lost or stolen. But, thanks to new features introduced in iOS 6 and expanded in iOS 7, there are other ways to control the privacy of your data.
In 2012, there were a number of instances in which it was revealed that high-profile apps, including LinkedIn and Path, were uploading information from users' address books to their servers without letting users know they were doing it. This was met with outrage and, eventually, new features in the iOS to prevent this from happening. Starting in iOS 6, Apple allows users to control what apps have access to what kind of data on their iPhone (and iPod touch and iPad).
To keep current with the privacy settings on your iPhone, it's a good idea to check the Privacy area each time you install a new app to see whether it wants access to your personal information.
To find your privacy settings, just tap the Settings app to launch it and then scroll down to Privacy. Tap it.
On the privacy screen, you'll see the elements of your iPhone that contain personal information that apps can gain access to.
Location Services are the GPS features of your iPhone that let you find out exactly where you are, get directions, find nearby restaurants, and more. They enable many helpful features of your phone, but they could also potentially allow your movements to be tracked. Location Services are turned On by default.
Tap Location Services and you'll see a number of options:
- Location Services - This is the basic GPS feature of your phone. I recommend leaving it on since turning it off would disable many useful, core features of your iPhone.
- Apps - Next, you'll see a list of all the apps that would like to be able to access your location information. They might do this in order to geo-tag photos (embedding the geographic location at which the photo was taken) and use your location to recommend nearby restaurants, movies, or stores. While this is useful, not all apps need your location to work and you may not want all apps knowing where you are. Move the slider to Off (in iOS 6) or so that the green disappears (in iOS 7) for apps that you don't want to have this information (though be aware that that could remove some of their features).
- System Services - These low-level services provide many features to the iOS and apps.
- Cell Network Search - Helps you locate 3G and 4G cellular networks to connect to.
- Compass Calibration - Enables the iPhone's built-in compass to accurately locate you.
- Diagnostics & Usage - Send data about your use of GPS features to Apple.
- Location-Based iAds - Uses your location to help apps deliver ads based on where you are.
- Popular Near Me - Uses your location to recommend things to you.
- Setting Time Zone - Automatically updates your phone's time zone based on its geographic location.
- Traffic - Supplies information to the Maps app about traffic conditions based on where you are.
- Wi-Fi Networking - Finds nearby Wi-Fi networks and sends information about them to Apple to help the company build a database of open Wi-Fi networks.
- Frequent Locations - This feature tracks the places you go most often so it can learn your habits to better give you directions and recommendations. Apple also uses this information to improve the accuracy of its Maps app.
- Status Bar Icon - Want to know when these services are accessing your location? Move this to On and you'll see an icon at the top of the screen when they are.
Contacts, Calendars, and Reminders
For these three sections of the Privacy settings, you can control what third-party apps on your device can access the information in your Contacts, Calendar, and Reminders apps. Tap each item and you'll see a list of the apps trying to access each one. Move the slider Off (in iOS 6) or so the green is hidden (in iOS 7) for apps you don't want to have access to that data. As always, remember that denying some apps access to this data could affect how they work.
Photos works basically the same way; the apps listed on that screen want to be able to access the pictures in your Photos app. An important detail to be aware of here is that some photos could have data, such as the GPS location where you took them (depending on your Location Services settings), embedded in them. You might not be able to see this data, but apps can. Again, you can turn Off apps' access to your photos, though doing that could limit their features.
New in iOS 7. Now that you can share files via Bluetooth, some apps will want your permission to do that. Control what apps can transmit files from your iPhone or iPod touch via Bluetooth by moving the slider next to each app to green (on) or white (off).
New in iOS 7. Apps can have access to the microphone on your iPhone. This mean that they can "listen" to what's being said around you and potentially record it. This is great for an audio note-taking app, but also has some security risks. Control what apps can use your microphone by moving the slider next to each app to green (on) or white (off).
New in iOS 7. This setting is only available on devices that have Apple's M7 motion co-processor chip in them (at the time of this writing, only the iPhone 5S). The M7 helps these devices track your physical movements—steps taken, flights of stairs walked, etc.—so that apps can employ them in tracking exercise, helping you get directions, and other uses. Tap this menu to get a list of the apps seeking access to this data and make your choices.
Social Media Accounts
New in iOS 7. If you've logged into Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, or Flickr via the iOS, use this setting to control which other 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.
New in iOS 7. Advertising companies can track you movements around the web and what ads you see. They do this both to get information about how to sell to you and to give you ads that are more likely to be things you're interested in. You may or may not want them to do this. If you want to reduce the amount of ad tracking that happens to you, move the slider to off/white in the Limit Ad Tracking option.