In recent years, people have become increasingly aware of the ways hackers can track their physical and digital movements through their mobile devices. However, some are also concerned about how Apple itself is tracking the behavior of iPhone users.
From the Significant Locations feature to Siri voice recordings and more, this article discusses the ways our iPhones can track us. We’ll also dispel some common misconceptions that people may have about phone monitoring.
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Ways That iOS Users Can Be Tracked
1. iPhone Significant Locations feature
iOS has a feature called Significant Locations. It is enabled by default when you buy the phone and is designed to track frequently visited locations such as your home and work addresses, favorite restaurants, and more.
The goal is to provide personalized services to optimize the user experience—for example, predictive traffic routing to help improve your journey to work.
Although the accuracy and amount of location data collected do vary between regions, this feature will usually 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 is end-to-end encrypted, which means that it cannot be read by Apple. However, it is stored on your phone. This means that anyone with access to your device could view your location history. For some—especially those in abusive or dangerous situations—this creates a security risk.
You are able to view Significant Locations on iPhone via a three-step process:
- Navigate to Settings > Privacy & Security > Location Services > System Services
- Scroll down and tap Significant Locations
- 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. To do so, tap ‘Clear History’ at the bottom of the page. Alternatively, you can opt to remove a specific location, if required.
You can also turn off Significant Locations 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. However, if you do this 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 as much as possible 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 information 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).
However, in 2021 Apple 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, every app must now request your permission if it wants to use Advertising Identifier to track your activity across other apps and websites.
3. Siri voice recordings
iOS users regularly use Siri’s voice control features to save time, or if they just have their hands full. However, most don’t realize that audio recordings of their interactions with Siri could be sent to Apple for review.
Apple does this in order to help improve their voice services, but many users would be uncomfortable if they knew that these recordings might be listened to by Apple employees.
A lot of iPhone users opt into this—without realizing it—when setting up their device, but it’s quite easy to disable in the Settings app if you would prefer not to share this data with Apple:
- Go to Settings
- Tap Privacy & Security
- Tap Analytics & Improvements
- Uncheck Improve Siri & Dictation
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Can Apps Share My Private Information?
While there are a number of ways that iPhones can track what you are doing, Apple is generally very privacy-focused and some of the rumors about how they can track your activity are simply not true.
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.
However, this is not true. iOS apps are in their own sandboxed environment. This means that it’s not possible for one app to access data stored in a different app.
Furthermore, for an app to gain access to certain shared areas of the device (such as photos, contacts, etc.), the user must explicitly grant permission for the app to do so. These permissions can also be revoked at any time in the Settings app of the device, making iOS apps more secure than some people assume.
Who Else Could Be Tracking My Phone?
Although Apple only tracks things like your location to improve your user experience, it’s possible that others may want to monitor your activity for malicious purposes. If you’re suspicious that someone is spying on your phone, it is possibly being done by one of the following persons:
A partner or an ex
Being snooped on by a partner or an ex is more common than you might think, with one study suggesting that 50% of Americans had accessed their partner’s phone without their permission. Commercially available spyware only costs around $30 and is easy to install with just a few minutes of physical access to your device.
Once installed, a partner or an ex could have access to your location, text messages, photos, and more.
If you have a company phone, it’s possible that your boss could be checking up on your activity. Since the phone is technically owned by your company, it’s likely they can legally install anything they want to on the device—including spyware that could be used to track your location, read your messages, or check your browser history.
Although it’s natural for parents to want to make sure their children are safe when using their phones or the Internet, some parents may cross the line and be tempted to snoop on their children’s private messages, photos, and other private information.
There are commercially available apps that allow them to do this easily, and all they need is access to the phone for just a few minutes to install the spyware.
Anyone with physical access to your device
Although we’ve listed some of the most common phone monitoring situations above, the truth is that just about anyone who has ever had physical access to your device for just a couple of minutes could be monitoring your activity.
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If you’re worried that someone could be tracking your phone activity, install Certo AntiSpy and scan your iPhone for spyware and other threats now.
Here’s how to check your iPhone for threats:
- Download Certo AntiSpy to your computer.
- Connect your iPhone via USB.
- Click Scan.
- Once complete, click Remove next to any threats detected.
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