In recent years we have become increasingly more aware of the ways in which hackers are able to track both our physical and digital movements though our mobile devices. For many of us, this raises understandable questions around our privacy. However, we may not be as aware of the many ways in which our iPhones can track what we are doing all on their own.

Below we discuss the ways in which our iPhones are able to track us and also dispel some common misconceptions that people may have.

What are some ways users are tracked that they might not know about?

1. Significant Locations

iOS has a feature called Significant Locations. Significant Locations is enabled by default when you buy the phone and it is able to keep track of all the locations that you visit, though the accuracy and amount of data collected does vary between regions. Commonly, however, this feature will show a list of towns and cities that you have visited, and a second screen will then show all the locations you’ve visited in that city on the map.

This information isn’t sent directly to Apple, but it is stored on your phone. This means that anyone with access to your device could view that information. For many, especially those in abusive or dangerous situations, this creates a huge risk.

You are able to view Significant Locations via a three-step process:

  1. Navigate to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services
  2. Scroll down and tap Significant Locations
  3. Enter your passcode or use Touch ID or Face ID when prompted

From within the Significant Locations screen, you can remove stored locations from your device by tapping ‘Clear History’ at the bottom of the page. Alternatively, you can selectively remove individual locations if required.

Significant Locations can also be totally turned off if you’d prefer not to be tracked at all. Once you have accessed the Significant Locations screen you can then tap the slider at the top of the page to turn it off. If you do this, however, it may result in you losing out on some features, such as predictive traffic routing.

2. Advertising Identifier

It probably comes as no surprise that many third-party apps want to learn more about you in order to display more relevant ads to you. To facilitate this on iPhones, apps use something called an Advertising Identifier. This is unique to your device and can be used to track your activity across other apps or websites for the purposes of advertising or sharing with data brokers.

If your device is running an iOS version that is older than 14.5 then all apps can use your Advertising Identifier by default unless you specifically opt out, but the option to do this is deep in the privacy settings and most people don’t even know it exists. To update this setting on a pre-iOS 14.5 device go to Settings > Privacy > Advertising (or Tracking).

Recently however, Apple has changed the way apps can use this Advertising Identifier in order to enhance user privacy. So, if you’re running iOS 14.5 or later then every app must now request your permission if they want to use your Advertising Identifier to track your activity across other apps and websites.

3. Siri Voice Recordings

iPhone users regularly use Siri’s voice control features to save time or if they just have their hands full. Most, however, don’t realize that audio recordings of their interactions with Siri could be sent to Apple for review. Apple do this in order to help improve their voice services, but many users would be uncomfortable if they knew that it might be listened to by Apple employees. A lot of iPhone users may have opted into this when setting up their device without realizing, but it’s quite easy to disable in the Settings app if you would prefer not to share this data with Apple:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Tap Privacy
  3. Tap Analytics & Improvements
  4. Uncheck Improve Siri & Dictation

What are some ways in which people think their phones are spying on them when they actually aren’t?

While there are a number of ways that iPhones can track what you are doing whilst you are unaware, in general iOS is quite privacy focused and there might be ways in which you assume you can be tracked, which in reality are not possible.

A common misconception is that iOS apps can access vast amounts of private data on your device. This includes data from other apps. For example, iPhone users might assume that, if they have the Facebook app installed, then Facebook can automatically read all of their messages and emails. iOS apps, however, are in their own sandboxed environment. This means that it’s not possible for them to access data from apps created by another developer. Furthermore, to gain access to certain shared areas of the device (such as the photo library, contacts etc.) the user must explicitly grant permission for the app to do so. These permissions can also be rescinded at any time in the Settings app of the device.

As we become more and more aware of our digital footprint, it is natural to be concerned about privacy. In order to maintain an acceptable level of privacy for yourself it is vital that you have the correct information to hand. Privacy should also be married to security. If the phone is infected with stalkerware then it renders any privacy settings redundant. A good mobile security app such as Certo Mobile Security will help you to protect your phone from threats as well as maintain privacy.