iPhones and Your Privacy

The Apple iPhone is one of the most popular phones on the market today. About 45 percent of all smartphone users in the United States choose to use an iPhone—over 100 million people. People take these devices everywhere and use them for almost everything.

However, much like Google, Apple iPhones—including iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro Max, and iPhone SE—collect a considerable amount of information on their users. If you’re an iPhone user, it’s time to take control of your privacy and understand just how much your iPhone really knows about you.

What is Apple ID?

Each person who purchases an Apple device must create an Apple ID. This account links all your Apple devices together.

This makes it easy for users to access Apple services on an iPhone, iPad, Macbook, or other technology. The App Store, iMessage, FaceTime, and Apple Music are all accessed with an Apple ID. To create an Apple ID, users will need to enter:

  • their name
  • their birthday
  • an email
  • their phone number
  • a payment method
  • a password

Apple ID Collects Your Information

Your Apple ID, while useful, stores a great amount of user information. The Apple ID keeps the security questions and their answers on file.  That means that it’s important to select security questions that don’t reveal any private information. Your Apple ID also collects and keeps payment details with the intent to make it easier for users to make purchases across devices.

Again, the information that your Apple ID will collect isn't without a cause. Details like your payment information will make your life easier when you can make a purchase with one quick swipe of your phone. However, those details are private and put you at risk if the wrong person has access to them. It might be slightly more bothersome to pay with cash or a credit card, but it's safest to try and limit the amount of information your Apple ID has.

iPhone Apps That Send Data

Almost every pre-installed Apple app that you use has data that is kept and shared with you via your Apple ID. This ranges from apps that handle more personal information, such as iMessage and Apple Pay, to apps that don’t seem to even have much important data, like Apple Music.

Your iPhone keeps a log of iMessage and FaceTime history, as well as your recent calls. Although Apple does not immediately have access to your photos, this no longer applies if a user backs up their photos to iCloud. Unfortunately, backing up photos to iCloud is an automatic setting. This gives Apple the ability to decrypt your photos from the start.

iPhone Privacy

Apple Music is one of the more heavily monitored apps, although this data is arguably less personal than iMessage or Photos. However, the level of detail recorded is surprising; Apple has the ability to not only keep track of the songs in a user’s library, but also to view actions taken by the user like skipping through songs or giving them a “like” or “dislike.”

From their App Store and iTunes Store, Apple can monitor transaction history. Apple can see when a user changes their billing information or their address, phone number, or email. Apple can also see payment card and information.

iCloud on iPhones

As mentioned above, iCloud is one of the biggest sources of information storage on Apple devices. iCloud works with more apps than just Photos to share information with Apple. Contacts and contact information uploaded to iCloud particularly fair game. So are iCloud Notes, even if they’ve been recently deleted.

Apple has the ability to view current and recently deleted notes and their contents. Recent changes to the Calendar app are also logged.

Ultimately, even though it’s not always shared with other sources, it’s safe to assume that nothing you do on your smartphone is truly private.

GPS & Location Services for iPhones

Just like other phones, iPhones have a GPS feature that lets users find directions on a map. According to Apple, Location Services allows for the collection and use of your current location to provide “a variety of location-based services.” These services, however, are not only extensive but also rather invasive.

iPhones will send locations of where and when you use apps to Apple. They share GPS data and travel speeds when you drive.

Your iPhone also tracks significant locations, which means that the device keeps track of places you have recently been and how often you visit there. Location-based suggestions and alerts also come from the location information your iPhone sends to Apple; these provide you with geographically relevant messages and recommendations, such as when to leave for your next appointment. The location data collected is kept for several months. Some of these updates to Location Services are new with recent iOS software updates, but many are unavoidable as long as you're an iPhone user.

Apple’s Location Services collects a significant amount of data. But the good news is that the data collected from the Maps app is associated with random identifiers and is not tied directly to your Apple ID. Additionally, all the data Apple collects offers an additional level of security with encryption.

According to Apple, they do this in order to increase the effectiveness of Apple's technology and services. It's up to each user to determine whether or not the benefits of enabling Location Services is worth the amount of information collected.

Third-party Apps for iPhones

Third-party apps are perhaps the biggest threat to iPhone users’ privacy. Apple has confirmed that even though they collect all the data listed above, it isn’t sold to outside sources. But Apple doesn’t prevent apps that users install on their iPhones from collecting and sharing data. These apps can collect information like your location, fingerprints, and ad preferences.

Apple is typically upfront about apps that use your camera, microphone, or location. But they are not clear about other ways that these apps harvest data.

Because Apple doesn’t necessarily care about what these third-party apps do to users, it’s important for users to do their own research on each app that they download. This will keep users from unknowingly opening themselves up to app trackers.

A Word to Apple Users

Apple iPhones keep records of more information than we realize. It doesn't matter which iPhone; whether you've got the latest iPhone 12 Pro Max, the iPhone XR, iPhone 11 Pro Max, or an old iPhone 6, all iPhone models gather information from the people who use them.

While this can be of concern, it's worth recognizing that users still have some control over the sharing with Apple by what they do and don't use and the settings they enable on their phone.  Our phones are both a help and a danger. However, we can make them more useful than not if we make sure to take the proper precautions.