iOS offers many tools to help you protect your privacy. Whether you are using an iPhone or an iPad, in this article I explain how to take advantage of them.
Set a Passcode
Everyone should use a passcode. The passcode protects your photos, messages, browser history, and more from prying eyes. Here’s how to configure it:
- Go to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode (or Settings > Passcode, or Settings > Face ID & Passcode).
- Tap Turn Passcode On.
- Enter a passcode.
- Enter the passcode again to verify.
- Consider enabling Settings > Touch ID (or Face ID) & Passcode > Erase Data. This feature automatically erases everything on a device after ten failed
passcode attempts. If you recover the device, you can restore it from a backup, though that might be difficult or impossible while traveling.
About Passcode Length
iOS originally used a 4-digit passcode, but Apple changed that starting with iOS 9. Touch ID and Face ID devices now default to a 6-digit passcode. However,
if you already have a 4-digit passcode, you aren’t required to change it.
To create a shorter or longer passcode, visit Settings > Passcode (or Touch ID [or Face ID] & Passcode) > Change Passcode, enter your existing passcode,
tap Passcode Options, and then select Custom Alphanumeric Code, 6-Digit Numeric Code, or 4-Digit Numeric Code. The first option lets you input a password
of any length and is the most secure option, but is harder to type than a passcode.
Set Up Touch ID
Touch ID, available on many iPhones and iPads, lets you scan your fingerprint on the Home button instead of typing a passcode. In many cases, it also replaces
your having to enter a password, such as the one that goes with your Apple ID.
If you have a Touch ID–equipped device, you were prompted to set up Touch ID when you set up the device. But in case you skipped that step, or want to
edit your settings, here’s how:
- Go to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode. (If you see only Settings > Passcode, either your device lacks Touch ID hardware or something is wrong with your
- Enter your passcode, if prompted.
- Tap Add a Fingerprint.
- When prompted, place your finger on the Home button (without pressing it), lift your finger up, and repeat until scanning is complete.
- iOS then prompts you to scan the edges of your finger. Follow the onscreen instructions.
- Repeat for each finger you might want to use to unlock your device. You can scan up to five digits; I recommend scanning at least both thumbs and your
primary index finger.
After setup, it’s a good idea to name each finger by tapping its listing in Settings > Touch ID & Passcode and entering a name into the text field.
Warning! Don’t forget your passcodes and passwords! You’re still prompted for them after enabling Touch ID: when you restart your device, when it’s been
longer than 48 hours since unlocking your device, and whenever you make changes to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode.
To delete a Touch ID fingerprint, open Settings > Touch ID & Passcode, enter your passcode when prompted, tap a fingerprint, and tap Delete Fingerprint.
Tip: If you want a loved one to be able to unlock your device, you can scan one of their fingers, too.
Set Up Face ID
Many models of iPhone and iPad Pro use facial recognition instead of Touch ID for quick authentication. You were likely prompted to set this up when you
set up the phone, but here’s how to set it up or change it later:
- Go to Settings > Face ID & Password.
- Enter your passcode, if prompted.
- Tap Set Up Face ID. If you don’t see that option, tap Reset Face ID and then tap Set Up Face ID.
- Follow the on-screen prompts, which instruct you to rotate your head while keeping it in the onscreen circle.
Face ID adapts to changes in your appearance over time, but if you have a radically different alternative appearance or if you want another person to use
Face ID with your device, tap Set Up an Alternate Appearance in Face ID & Passcode.
Here are a few tips for using Face ID:
- You need at least one eye open for Face ID to work unless you turn off Require Attention for Face ID in Settings > Face ID & Passcode.
- Face ID can also do things like reduce the volume of alarms if it sees that you’re looking at the screen. If you don’t like this, turn off Require Attention
for Face ID in Settings > Face ID & Passcode.
- Face ID works fine in the dark, but struggles in direct sunlight.
- Face ID works fine with most glasses and sunglasses.
Set Up Find My iPhone
I strongly encourage you to enable Find My iPhone in Settings > Your Name > Find My > Find My iPhone.
Note: This feature is called different things on different devices, like Find My iPad, Find My iPod touch, etc. It’s all the same.
Then, if you ever lose your device, you can erase it remotely (or possibly even find it) from
or the Find My app on a different Apple device signed in to the same Apple ID or grouped with your lost device through Family Sharing (see
But the most important reason to enable Find My iPhone is that it also activates
, which makes it extremely difficult for any thief to use or resell your device.
Understand Privacy Settings
Tap Settings > Privacy to access many options for securing your privacy. Let’s look at the high points:
- Disable ad tracking: If you do nothing else, you should tap Advertising (way at the bottom) and make certain that Limit Ad Tracking is on. If this switch
is off, advertisers track information about you (anonymously) and use it to serve personalized ads within certain apps.
Tip: The Safari web browser blocks a number of trackers automatically.
- Analytics: There are several switches here to share information with Apple and third-party developers. Apple and app developers use these to help improve
their products, and your information is protected with
. So feel free to leave them on without threatening your privacy, but if you’re truly worried, turn them off.
About Differential Privacy
To improve its software based on usage patterns, Apple needs to collect data from you, but it wants to do so in a way that doesn’t risk violating your
privacy. Enter a technique called “differential privacy,” which addresses the concern that attackers could collate sufficient anonymous data to identify
individuals despite the lack of personalized information. With differential privacy, Apple collects certain usage information anonymously and also adds
fake data to render the data meaningless in isolation.
- Bluetooth: Starting with iOS 13 and iPadOS 13, the operating system periodically alerts you to apps requesting Bluetooth access. Many developers use
Bluetooth as a backdoor method of tracking your location, so I recommend not disallowing Bluetooth access unless an app truly needs it. Note that this
does not affect the use of Bluetooth audio, since that’s handled at the system level.
- Microphone: It’s a good idea to check this setting every now and again to make sure no apps are listening in without your knowledge.
- Enable or disable location tracking: Tap Location Services to specify which apps can see your geographic location.
You can turn Location Services off entirely, but that’s a bad idea—you won’t be able to use the Maps app, for example. You’re better off adjusting location
services on a per-app basis, focusing on apps that don’t need your location. For instance, a weather alert app may need your location all the time, but
Maps only needs to know while you’re using it. And a calculator app doesn’t need it at all!
Location Services Arrow Icons
An item on the Location Services screen may display a tiny arrow icon, similar to the Location Services icon in the status bar. This icon can help you
assess when an app has last tracked your location:
- Hollow arrow: The app may use your location under certain circumstances.
- Purple arrow: The app has recently used your location.
- Gray arrow: The app has used your location in the past 24 hours.
- Per app: The Settings > Privacy screen has several options to limit access to app data from other apps. For example, tap Photos to see a list of apps
that have access to your photo library.
Learn About Two-Factor Authentication
Mere passwords are no longer sufficient to guard your Apple account; you also need a second factor—an arbitrary code sent to a secondary device.
Note: Many features in the Apple ecosystem, such as unlocking a Mac with an Apple Watch, require two-factor authentication.
Enable Two-Factor Authentication
Next, you’ll want to enable two-factor authentication to secure your account:
- On your iOS device, go to Settings > Your Name > Password & Security.
- Tap Set Up Two-Factor Authentication.
- Tap Continue.
- Enter the phone number you want to use to verify your identity, and whether you prefer a text message or phone call. Tap Next.
- Enter your Apple ID password. You should also receive an email informing you that two-factor authentication has been enabled.
- Enter your device passcode.
Use Two-Factor Authentication
When you authenticate one of your other Apple devices, Apple sends a notification to other devices that are already authenticated.
Tap Allow on the authenticated device to see a 6-digit verification code. Enter that code on the device you want to authenticate to complete login. Tap
OK on the already authenticated device to dismiss the code.
Improve Your Passwords
Passwords are your first, and often last, line of defense for your online accounts. iOS offers two tools for making them better:
- Generate secure passwords in Safari: When creating a new account on a website, when you tap the password field Safari automatically creates and stores
a strong password. If you want to use that password, tap Use Strong Password. Otherwise tap Choose My Own Password.
You can view these passwords, along with other saved passwords, in Settings > Passwords & Accounts > Website & App Passwords. Refer back to
to see how you can use these in websites and apps.
- Check for duplicate passwords: While viewing your logins in Settings > Passwords & Accounts > Website & App Passwords, look for the caution icon, which
indicates a duplicate password. You’ll want to change the passwords for any accounts that have that icon.
About Sign In with Apple
Keeping up with usernames and passwords is a pain, even if you use a password manager. To take advantage of that fact, companies like Facebook and Google
offer single-sign-on solutions to developers, where you can log into a new service with your Facebook or Google credentials. But in doing so, you give
up some of your personal info to Facebook or Google, and developers can access information from those accounts.
Enter Apple’s solution:
, which lets you sign into apps and websites with a single tap or click using your Apple ID. Sign In with Apple was built from the ground up with privacy
in mind, and doesn’t collect data from you other than your name and email address. It even lets you give developers a obfuscated email address if you don’t
want to share that.
To take advantage of it, just tap the Sign In with Apple option when you see when signing up for a new website or app. It should be everywhere by the time
iOS and iPadOS 13 are released, since if a developer offers sign-in with Facebook or Google, they’re required to also offer Sign In with Apple.