The Privacy Enthusiast’s Guide to Using an iPhone

February 17, 2017

Your privacy is important, and now more than ever, it seems like everyone is trying to put eyes on your personal data. That might include advertisers, governments, or some weird voyeur in your life. The good news is you can do a few things to your iPhone to make it more secure and privacy friendly without ruining the experience.

First things first: this is an Apple device and it’s a smartphone, so you’ll never hide yourself completely, but you can do a few things to shore up holes to make sure you’re not making it easy for someone to collect your private information. We don’t want to give you a false sense of impenetrable privacy here, but the below tips and various apps will at least lock down information as much as possible without disrupting your daily activities.

The System Settings You Want to Change for Privacy

First things first, you’ll want to go through your general system settings and change a few things. Here’s what we recommend, but pick and choose whichever features matter most to you:

Set a strong, alphanumeric passcode: Head to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode and make sure you have a passcode. An alphanumeric passcode that includes both numbers and letters is usually seen as more secure than a numeric one.

Don’t use Touch ID: Touch ID is great for convenience, but it’s a mess when it comes to privacy. Laws are still unclear about this, but right now, police can force you to use your fingerprint to unlock your phone, but they can’t make you cough up a passcode. To turn Touch ID off, head to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode, and disable the toggle for iPhone Unlock.

Delete any widgets that displays personal info: iOS 10 introduced lockscreen widgets, which are great, but they also potentially display all kinds of information you might not want easily accessible. Swipe to the right on the lock screen, then tap Edit to remove any widgets you have installed that display private data you don’t want a stranger seeing.

Disable certain home screen features: Head to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode and look for “Lock screen access.” Remove anything that gives someone access to your personal info, like the Today View, Siri, and Wallet. You might also want to disable Reply with Message here, since someone could reply to an incoming message without unlocking your phone.

Disable tracking: Head to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services and turn off Frequent Locations. This is a Maps feature that tracks where you go often under the guise of improving search.

Turn off contact, photo, email, or calendar, location access in apps that don’t need it: Head to Settings > Privacy. Here, you’ll see a list of a bunch of different system services, including location, contacts, and more. These are the iPhone services you can grant apps access to. There might be some apps in here you don’t remember authorizing or you just don’t want anymore. Tap a service, then go through and disable any app you don’t want to access that service.

Remove notification previews: Chances are you don’t want to disable notifications completely, but you might want to hide what those notifications display on the lockscreen. Head to Settings > Notifications and then disable previews for Mail and Messages.

Turn on two-factor authentication: Two-factor authentication is the best way to lock down your accounts so a stranger can’t access it, even if they know your password. You can set it up for your Apple ID here. You should use two-factor authentication for all your other accounts as well.

Enable Find My iPhone: Find My iPhone is a bit confusing from a privacy standpoint, but most people will benefit more from using it then not. With Find My iPhone enabled, you can track a lost phone using iCloud, and you can wipe your phone remotely. Apple will have access to the same information, so it boils down to whether you want to keep the data out of Apple’s hands (in which case you shouldn’t use an iPhone at all) or out of a thief’s hands.

Turn off iCloud backups for select apps: iCloud backup is insanely helpful, and while an extreme privacy nut would disable them in order to keep that data off of Apple’s servers, and easier solution is to just turn off certain apps. If you head to Settings > iCloud > Storage > Manage Storage > Backups, you can choose which apps back up to iCloud and which don’t. Disable any apps that hold sensitive data.

Tweaking a few settings on your iPhone is part of the process. The apps you choose to use are important too.

The Productivity Apps That Protect Your Privacy

Most productivity apps completely disregard your privacy for the sake of convenience. This isn’t a bad thing, as cloud syncing and smart organization features are exactly the features you want from productivity apps. Still, you might not want all your data to somehow end up public, which is where these security-focused apps come in handy. Some, like a web browser or password manager are useful all the time, and others, like an encrypted notes app or VPN, are only useful for certain things.

None of these apps will keep your data private if you have a corporate managed iPhone with Mobile Device Management set up. If that’s the case, get a separate phone and do not use your work phone for anything other than work.

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