How apps can threaten your privacy

04 August 2020

Learn how to use app permissions on your iPhone and iPad to protect your privacy, including restricting access to details about your location.



iPhones and iPads are essential and fun tools to use everyday – thanks primarily to the vast library of over a million apps. 

But you may not realise that some iPhone and iPad apps are busy harvesting private information stored on your device.

Is it safe to leave your phone charging overnight?

Many apps track your location, copy your contacts, monitor your web browsing, and even record call numbers.

Fortunately, Apple lets you control how apps access your data or location in iOS 8 and higher. 

What sort of data is at risk?

Your iPhone collects a huge amount of information or metadata about you, including your location, contacts, conversations, shopping habits, and search terms.

Taken individually none of this information is dangerous, but aggregated and cross-referenced it becomes a very profitable product.

Have you ever stopped to wonder how so many iPhone app developers can afford to give their products away for free? The answer is that if you’re not paying for a product, then you are the product.

Check the terms and conditions of apps

Apps must ask your permission the first time they want access – you’ll see a pop-up on screen saying what it needs to access.

Think carefully about which apps you allow to use your personal data. Once permission is given, you’re then subject to the app developer’s terms and conditions. Read these first, so you know how your data may be used.

However, some iPhone apps need access to this information in order to work properly. For example, the Facebook app needs to use your device’s camera so that you can take and upload photographs directly to your Facebook page. And, your map app won’t be able to plan a route to a given destination if it doesn’t know your current location.

A good guideline is if the app needs access to data in order to complete its main task – such as show your location on a map – then you should consider granting it permission.

Check what access your apps already have

You can check what access each of the apps on your iPhone has, or you can install MyPermissions Privacy Cleaner, a free iPhone app that will do it for you.

We were a little skeptical, but by testing it on one iPhone discovered that 21 different apps had access to Twitter alone, and the Google account was potentially being accessed by another six, while Dropbox had five and Instagram had two. You can choose which ones you want to revoke and approve them via the app if you trust them and want them to continue to have access.

Changing app permissions

Whether you tap 'Allow' or 'Don’t Allow' when an app first asks permission, you can still change your mind later. 

Tap Settings > Privacy to change permissions. Here you can select different kinds of data from this list to see which apps have asked for permission to use that data, and which have been granted permission. You'll be amazed at how much access each one has, most of which will be completely unnecessary.

You can add or remove permission from any app that has asked for access to data. If you do deny access, and later change your mind, reinstating it is just as easy.

Understanding Location Services

'Location Services' let apps access your iPhone or iPad’s cellular, wi-fi, Bluetooth and GPS signals to pinpoint your location, so that they can provide targeted information or services. 

For example, a weather app will provide the forecast for your town, while a restaurant app will give details of places to eat in your local area.  

You can disable 'Location Services' on your iPhone or iPhone entirely, which stops any app from knowing your location. However, this limits the ability of many apps to provide relevant information.

Alternatively, you can grant permission for individual apps to use 'Location Services'. You’ll see a pop-up window on screen requesting permission the first time an app tries to access your location. 

To change permissions at any stage, tap Settings > Privacy > Location Services and select an app. You’ll see options including 'Never', 'Always' and 'When In Use'. Tap the permission you’d like to allow for that app. 'Never' will prevent that app from accessing your location, 'Always' allows access, even when the app isn’t in use, and 'When In Use' limits access to when you’re actively using the app.

One beneficial feature that needs Location Services is Find My iPhone, an iPhone feature that allows you track your phone if you ever lose it. You can prompt your phone to make a loud noise, which is handy if you have displaced it around the house, or you can actually see its location if it has been stolen.

Deleting data when you sell your phone

If you ever sell or give away your old iPhone you must make sure that you have deleted all the information on it before handing it over to the new owner.

Just go to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings.

Remember though; this is the nuclear option that will erase everything on your iPhone, so only do it once your new phone is up and running and you are sure you aren’t going to need your old one anymore!

For more tips and useful information, browse our technology articles.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.