The Best Ways to Protect Your Privacy with the iOS 15 Update

Man holding phone pressing the button of Security settings
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The Best Ways to Protect Your Privacy with the iOS 15 Update: A Quick Guide

Apple doubled down on privacy features with the latest iOS update. Adjust these features to make your experience more private on the new iOS 15 update:

  • Activate Mail privacy protection – Enable Mail privacy protection to prevent email trackers and pixels from tracking things like when you open your mail and which links you click on.
  • Shield your IP address in Safari – You can use Private Relay to shield your IP address from website trackers in Safari.
  • Record app activity – You can now record app activity to see exactly what data your apps are tracking.
  • Use Apple two-factor authentication – Add an extra level to login security and eliminate the need to use a third-party authenticator
  • Limit app tracking – Now you can choose to only let an app pinpoint your location once or set a frequency.
  • Use a VPN – To shield yourself from trackers, use a third-party VPN like ExpressVPN.

Read our full article for step-by-step instructions on how to set up each of these new privacy settings, and review a few old settings to make sure your privacy is protected.

By now, most people know that free online services and apps profit by selling ads on their service. Advertisers pay more to target their ads to customers based on personalized interests. Websites and apps don’t hesitate to collect your individual data and provide it to these hungry advertisers.

Adjusting your privacy settings helps you minimize how much personal information is shared. And, if you’re an iPad or iPhone user, the latest iOS 15 update gives you more privacy controls than ever before.

But where to start? There are so many settings to go through, so it can be a bit confusing at times for average users.

In this article, we’ve broken down the new privacy controls in iOS 15. We also show you how to quickly tweak these new settings and some older ones too.

5 iOS Privacy Settings You Should Update in iOS 15 (And How to Do It)

If you haven’t yet updated your iPad or iPhone’s operating system to iOS 15, now is the time to do it. Apple has put an increased emphasis on security and included several new privacy features you simply can’t afford to ignore.

1. Mail privacy protection

If you think advertisers only track you when you’re surfing the web, think again. For a long while, they’ve been inserting tracking pixels into your emails. If you’ve never heard of email tracking pixels, you’re not alone. Most people have no idea what happens when they innocently open emails that include these invisible trackers. And it isn’t just advertisers who use this invisible piece of privacy-invading technology.

A tracking pixel is an invisible image included in an email. When you open the message, this invisible image sends information back to the sender and tells them, among other things, the exact time you opened the email, your IP address, and your location. This lets the sender surveil you without your knowledge. What they do with that information is completely out of your hands. Some pixels also track other metrics, like how long you read the mail for, your cursor movement, and the links you clicked.

Apple addressed this invasion of privacy with its new Mail Privacy Protection feature. It blocks tracking pixels and shields your real IP address and location, thus making tracking pixels effectively useless.

To enable this feature:

  1. Open your Settings app > Mail > Privacy Protection.Screenshot of iPhone settings app, Mail settings window with highlighted option Privacy Protection
  2. Toggle Protect Mail Privacy to ON.Screenshots of iPhone Mail, Privacy Protection settings window

If you want an in-depth explanation of what this feature does, just click on Learn more when you’re on the Protect Mail Privacy screen.

Enhanced privacy protection for iCloud+ subscribers

For iCloud+ subscribers, there is an additional mail privacy feature available called Hide My Email. This keeps your personal email private by creating anonymized email addresses you can provide to websites, apps, or businesses. Any emails sent to the anonymous email are forwarded to your personal email that is associated with your AppleID.

This feature is activated by default for iCloud+ subscribers. How it works is that anytime you create a new account on a website or in an app, you can choose between your actual email or an auto-generated one. If you use your AppleID to log in, an anonymous email address will automatically be generated. You must be using the Safari browser for this to work.

In practice, anytime you sign up for a new online service with your regular email, you’ll be prompted with the following screen during account setup:

Apple ID, hide my email window, screenshot

To see emails already generated using this feature:

  1. Go to Settings > Your AppleID > iCloud > Hide My Email.Screenshot of iPhone Apple ID, iCloud settings with highlighted option Hide My Email
  2. You will see a list of all auto-generated emails that have been created. Tap on any address to see more information and turn off the Forward To option to stop getting emails from that source.Screenshots of iPhone iCloud, Hide My Email windows

If you turn off the Forward To option, you will no longer receive emails from that sender.

2. Shield your IP address when you use Safari

Speaking of trackers, they’re not only limited to email. Every time you go online, sites use trackers to gather information and use it to create a profile about your online habits, behavior, and activities. They can sell this information to advertisers or use it for their own purposes. Either way, trackers let sites learn a lot about you.

How do they gather this information? They use your unique IP address, which every device has when it connects to the internet.

You can hide your real IP address with iOS 15. Here’s how:

  1. Go to Settings > Safari > Hide IP Address.Screenshot of iPhone Safari settings window with Hide IP Address option highlighted
  2. Tap From Trackers to turn on this feature. iCloud+ subscribers will see an additional option – Trackers and Websites. A blue checkmark will appear, indicating choice confirmation.Screenshot of iPhone Hide IP Address settings window with Trackers and Websites option highlighted

More anonymity for iCloud+ subscribers

If you have an iCloud+ subscription, you can take this protection one step further. Not only can you block trackers and websites, but also encrypt the traffic you send across the internet.

Follow these steps to enable this feature:

  1. Open your Settings app > Your Apple IDiCloud > Private Relay.Screenshot of iPhone Apple ID settings, iCloud settings window with highlighted option Private Relay
  2. Toggle Private Relay (beta) to ON.Screenshot of iPhone iCloud settings, Private Relay settings window
  3. Tap IP Address Location & choose how specific you want your generic IP address to be. Your options are:
    • Maintain General Location – this allows websites to deliver local news, weather, etc.
    • Use Country and Time Zone – a less localized option that may impact the kind of information delivered to youScreenshot of iPhone IP Address Location Settings window
  4. Go back to the Private Relay screen and tap the Private Relay for Safari link. You will only have to do this once, then the option disappears.

Once you modify these settings, your IP address will be disguised and the data you send online will be encrypted.

Private Relay is not a replacement for a VPN

This all might sound like the Private Relay is actually a VPN – it is not. While both Private Relay and a VPN do hide your IP address and encrypt your data, a good VPN offers other important privacy features.

A VPN allows you to spoof your location anywhere that your VPN provider has a server. This lets you unlock country-specific online content, and bypass certain location-specific pricing for online services. Private Relay limits you to your current location and country.

A VPN also works on any browser and protects you anytime you’re online. Private Relay only works on Safari, so the protections stop once you open a different browser.

3. Find out what your apps are doing behind the scenes

If you’ve ever been curious (or concerned) about the specific things your apps are doing on your device (besides what you expect them to do), you’ll love this new feature.

The App Privacy Report lets you easily save and see which apps have accessed your iPhone’s cameras, microphone, photos, and contacts in the past seven days.

To turn on app tracking:

  1. Open your Settings app > Privacy > Record App Activity.Screenshot of iPhone Privacy settings window with highlighted option Record App Activity
  2. Toggle Record App Activity to ON.Screenshot of iPhone Record app activity settings window
  3. Tap the Save App Activity to create and save an App Privacy Report in .ndjson format which you can view in any text editor.

Here’s how the App Privacy Report looks on your phone. Keep in mind that it doesn’t include network activity from private browsing sessions in different browsers.

iPhone device mockup app privacy report window on the screen

© Apple

4. Beef up login security with Apple’s built-in two-factor authenticator tool

Long gone are the days when a simple username and password were enough to keep your online accounts secure. Today, the best way to protect your online accounts from hackers is to use two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever possible.

When you enable 2FA for an app, it adds a one-time code to the login process. You get this code via SMS or via a third-party authentication tool like Google Authenticator. Using an authenticator tool is the more secure way to get the code, but it requires you to add another app to your life. Apple streamlined this process by building its own authenticator app into the latest iOS update.

To set up Apple 2FA:

  1. Log in to your account on the web and sign up for two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication.
  2. Open your iPhone Settings app > Passwords.Screenshot of iPhone settings app password option highlighted
  3. Tap on the account where you want to sync 2FA.Screenshot of iPhone settings password window
  4. Tap Set Up Verification Code and follow the prompts.Screenshot of iPhone settings set up verification code
  5. When the process is complete, you will see a new VERIFICATION CODE section for that account.Screenshot of iPhone settings app verification code window

Once you’ve synced 2FA on an account, iOS 15 will autofill your authentication information whenever the account requires it.

5. Limit how often your apps know where you are

There are plenty of reasons to prohibit apps from knowing your location data. But there are times when it is helpful for them to pinpoint where you are, like when you schedule an Uber or need directions from Google Maps.

In the past, Apple has only allowed you to choose between Allow While Using App or Don’t Allow when it comes to location tracking. Once you make a choice, you don’t get asked again.

However, with the latest iOS update, you now have a third option – Allow Once. This lets you provide specific location information one time and one time only. Once you close the app (not just minimize the icon on your screen), location tracking stops. It is a nice middle ground between never letting an app track you and giving it carte blanche access to pinpoint your location anytime the app is open or minimized.

To enable this option on an app by app basis, do the following:

  1. Open Settings > Privacy > Location Services and make sure Location Services is toggled ON.
    Screenshot of iPhone settings app, Privacy panel with highlighted option Location Services
  2. Tap on the app you want and choose Ask Next Time Or When I Share. You can also choose to pinpoint or approximate your location. For reasons noted above, pinpointing is a more sensible choice for certain apps.Screenshots of iPhone Location Services settings
  3. Open the app and you will be prompted with a pop-up screen that asks Allow [app name] to use your location? Choose Allow Once.Screenshot of iPhone Location services, Allow app to use your location pop-up window

Each time you close and re-open the app, you’ll be prompted with these three options.

Other iPad and iPhone Privacy Settings You Should Review

Just because these settings have been around forever, doesn’t mean they’re any less important in your quest for privacy. When you’re doing your settings overhaul after installing the latest iOS update, be sure to verify these tried-and-true settings match your privacy expectations.

Location services

Turning this setting off gives you the most privacy on your iPhone or iPad. However, that probably isn’t going to serve you well in practical use. That Uber isn’t going to find you by magic. It needs to pinpoint your precise location, so the driver knows where to go. Same with Google Maps helping you out when you’re not sure where you’re headed.

The good news is that you can tweak this setting on the app level, and use the new Allow Once option to minimize how often you can be found.

To view your current setting, go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services.

App tracking requests

Want to do everything you can to ensure your apps aren’t tracking your activity on other apps and websites? Be sure to turn off the Allow Apps to Request to Track feature.

When it is off, any app requests to track you will automatically be denied.

To check the status of this setting, go to Settings > Privacy > Tracking, and make sure the Allow Apps to Request to Track is toggled to OFF.

App permissions

Each time you add a new app to your device, you get a series of permission requests during the initial app setup. The app asks if it can access things like your camera, contacts, microphone, and device sensors. Sometimes you have no choice but to say yes. If you decline, then apps like WhatsApp won’t let you snap new pics or add pictures from your photo gallery to a chat. Of course, over time you likely forgot which apps you gave permission to and what you allowed.

To review current permissions, open Settings > Privacy and then tap on each of the categories to see which apps have permission to access that option. Turn off app permission, as needed.

Ad tracking

Most of your sensitive data is shared for targeted advertising purposes. This is how “free” social media pays for itself. While you, unfortunately, cannot eliminate ads altogether, you can limit ad tracking on iOS devices to avoid personalized advertisements, based on your online behavior.

To turn off ad targeting, go to Settings > Privacy > Apple Advertising and toggle Personalized Ads to OFF. You may also want to learn the privacy risks of period tracking apps, and how you can optimize your privacy settings in iOS.

Safari Do Not Track

Websites often track the site you come from and the site you go to after visiting them using cookies. If two sites partner with other advertisers such as Twitter or Facebook, they can share the information with them. Your activity helps build a more complete profile of your interests and activities online. It is possible on iOS devices to limit the amount of tracking that occurs as you browse the web using Safari.

To turn off cross-app tracking, go to Settings > Safari and toggle Prevent Cross-Site Tracking to ON.

Apple analytics

In older versions of iOS, Analytics was called ‘Diagnostics & Usage’. Now it has a new name – Analytics & Improvements – and collects much more personal data. Some of this data is useful to share and helps ensure Apple can keep your device running smoothly. Other transmitted data is more intrusive.

To find out what information you’re currently sharing with Apple, open Settings > Privacy > Analytics & Improvements, then scroll through the options and toggle each setting ON or OFF, as desired.

You can also tap Analytics Data to see details about what information has previously been shared.

More Ways to Strengthen Your iPad and iPhone Privacy Settings

Now that you’ve tweaked settings to maximize your privacy, it’s time to make sure you’re utilizing other ways to keep your privacy secure.

Keep iOS up to date

Even though you already updated to iOS 15 (or should), staying on top of future iOS updates as they are released is important. Why?

New bugs and potential security threats are discovered every day. Apple developers are constantly updating software to address these concerns. Then they issue updates that protect your device from such threats. If you ignore these updates, you put your device at unnecessary risk.

Keep your apps up to date

The same goes for the third-party apps you have on your device. Bugs and security threats are a concern for app developers, too. They issue app updates to address known threats and protect you from being hacked via their apps.

Be sure to periodically go into the App Store and install app updates as they become available.

Other Strategies to Maintain Your Privacy Online

Besides device-specific strategies to keep yourself safe online, there are other ways to maintain your privacy in the cyberworld.

Always use a VPN when you go online

Using a VPN whenever you go online is an excellent way to ensure your privacy. Since all the data you send is fully encrypted, it is safe from the prying eyes of hackers, your ISP, and even the government.

Likewise, your actual IP address is hidden, so your online activity is not traceable back to you.

The third benefit is that a VPN lets you pick a virtual location anywhere that your VPN provider has a server. This helps you unlock country-specific content from streaming services and find better pricing for online services. If you happen to live in or are traveling through a high-censorship country, a VPN can be your ticket to access the information and services blocked by the country you’re in.

If you don’t know a lot about VPNs, check out this article for a great explanation of the benefits they provide. If you want to choose a good VPN, we highly recommend ExpressVPN. You can also set up a VPN on your iPhone or iPad.

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Add antivirus protection in your online routine

Even with your privacy settings locked down, you’re still vulnerable to malware and hacking attempts. When you add solid antivirus software to all the devices you use to go online, you have extra protection against these threats.

If you haven’t used an antivirus program before, read up on everything you need to know here.

Always use a strong password

You can crank down your iPad and iPhone privacy settings in an effort to ensure total privacy, but if your passwords are weak, you’re still at risk. Forget your kid’s birthday or high school mascot (especially if you still answer and share those Facebook scam quizzes). To best protect yourself today, you need a complex, unique password for every account.

Of course, writing those new, complicated passwords on a sticky note or in a notebook defeats the purpose. To best manage your long list of unique passwords, we recommend using a password manager. If you’re new to using this type of app, get up to speed with our review of the best password managers of 2021.

Closing Thoughts

Maintaining your privacy in today’s world of online everything can seem like a daunting prospect. Yet, it is not impossible, especially if you use an iOS device. With the latest iOS update, Apple has made great strides towards privacy protection for users of their devices.

New features like email privacy protection, IP address shielding, app activity monitoring, a built-in two-factor authentication tool, and enhanced app location tracking are all giant strides towards a safer, more private user experience on iPads and iPhones.

These new features dovetail nicely with Apple’s already robust iPad and iPhone privacy settings, like app tracking, app permissions, ad tracking, and Safari’s Do Not Track. Together, these old and new iPad and iPhone privacy settings offer the most privacy protection of any iOS update so far.

Frequently Asked Questions About iPhone Privacy Settings

Still have questions? Read our answers to the most commonly asked questions we get about iOS 15 privacy features.

Keeping your operating system up-to-date is a good practice because it protects your iPhone from third-party threats and gives you the latest and greatest features. You can turn on auto-updates so you never miss anything.

  1. Open Settings > General > Software Update.
  2. Tap Automatic Updates.
  3. Toggle Download iOS Updates and Install iOS Updates to ON.

Your updates will be installed overnight, while your iPhone is charging and connected to Wi-Fi.

There are several privacy settings that you should enable on iOS 15, especially. Here are 5 you should enable right away:

  • Mail privacy protection
  • Shield your IP address in Safari
  • Check up on what your apps are doing
  • Use Apple two-factor authentication
  • Limit app tracking

For a more comprehensive guide, read the full article.

You can make your iPhone more private using the following methods:

  • Use a stronger passcode
  • Always use two-step verification
  • Add App Privacy Protection
  • Use Private Relay in Safari

To find out more about privacy settings for the iPhone and iPad, check out our full guide.

Tech journalist
Liz is a professional writer with a special interest in online privacy and cybersecurity. As a US expat who travels and works in diverse locations around the world, keeping up with the latest internet safety best practices remains her priority.