How To: 14 Safari Privacy Settings You Need to Check on Your iPhone

14 Safari Privacy Settings You Need to Check on Your iPhone

Facebook, Equifax, even Twitter — thanks to recent security breaches and data scandals, our privacy and how it's managed is in the public eye more than ever. iOS users are in a good hands, as Apple makes customer privacy a priority. But there are still plenty of privacy settings to explore and change, especially within Safari.

It should go without saying that privacy and the internet do not mix — as you browse the web, every move you make is logged by your ISP, the site you're visiting, even sites you've visited in the past. But taking the proper precautions can help reduce the data you give off as you use Safari. Luckily, Apple includes many by default, but there are still plenty of settings you should check to make sure you're surfing the web as securely as possible.

1: Your iPhone's Passcode

While Safari might not require a passcode for users to access it, your iPhone sure does. If someone with nefarious motives wants in on your Safari data, it won't matter what steps you take below if they can guess your passcode.

In addition, some sensitive information found in Safari — such as iCloud Keychain and iOS' password manager — may be hidden behind Touch ID or Face ID, but if your intruder knows your passcode, it only takes a minute for them to reset your biometric keys to match their own. So much for that deterrent.

You'll want to make sure your passcode is strong enough to keep out the most likely of intruders, while also not being so complicated you lose your mind trying to get into your iPhone. Check out our guide below on creating the ideal passcode for your device so that all of your Safari data remains private.

2: Siri & Search

Siri & Search integration with Safari can be useful — Siri can learn more about the way you search and can include helpful predictions and suggestions in Search, Look Up, and even in your keyboard.

To the privacy-conscious, this can sound a bit much. If you'd rather not hand over this information to Siri, you can easily disable the feature by going to Settings –> Safari –> Siri & Search. Simply tap the switch to disable "Search & Siri Suggestions."

Even if you disable Search & Siri Suggestions, you might still see Siri Suggestions when typing a search into Safari. That's because of "Safari Suggestions," which uses Siri to recommend sites based on your queries.

While useful, the information is still tailored to you and what Siri thinks interests you most. Of course, that means it's using data collected from your iPhone activity. While disabling this feature might not remove that data, it can give users more peace of mind — not seeing Safari make suggestions from personal data can make you feel a bit more secure.

(1) Safari Suggestions enabled, (2) Safari Suggestions disabled

To disable Safari Suggestions, simply head over to Settings –> Safari, then tap the slider next to "Safari Suggestions."

3: Set DuckDuckGo as Your Search Engine

Google may have conquered the search engine market — know anyone who says "let's Bing it?" — but that doesn't mean you need to use it. Google is famous for how it collects data on its users, which, if you're reading this, might go against your privacy-minded interests.

If using Google as your default search engine makes you uneasy, try DuckDuckGo instead. DuckDuckGo was created in response to Google's seemingly endless control over your data. The company does not store your data, doesn't show you ads based on your search history, and doesn't track you between public and private browsing modes.

If you'd like to make the switch, just head over to Settings –> Safari –> Search Engine, then choose DuckDuckGo.

4: Location Services

Location Services enable your iPhone and its apps to access your current location. GPS apps constantly need to see your location in order to give you accurate directions, while weather apps use your location to bring you weather information in your area.

The way Safari uses your location really comes down to the sites you access. If a site needs or wants access to your location to provide you a service, you'll receive a popup asking your permission. If you accept, the site can use your location as long as you're on it. If you reject it, you'll be asked the next time you check the site.

Obviously, location access is the direct opposite of privacy. However, so many sites today need access to your location to function that it can be difficult to disable this feature entirely.

Safari gives you two options when it comes to your location — "Never" and "While Using the App." The first option will block any site from even asking for your location. If you feel as though you'll never need a site you visit to use your location, you can choose this option.

However, it's likely you'll run into a site that won't work unless you fork over this personal info. Luckily, with the "While Using the App" option, Safari — and the site itself — will only see your location while you're using the app. Once you quit, the access breaks.

What you choose really comes down to you, and if you change your mind, switching options is simple and effortless. To find the option, simply go to Settings –> Privacy –> Location Services –> Safari Websites.

5: AutoFill

AutoFill provides an instant way for you to enter your personal information into web forms — instead of typing all relevant details by hand, Safari can pull data from your contact card, including your name, address, date of birth, email address, and more. AutoFill also works with usernames and passwords, as well as credit cards for easy entry.

Of course, this can pose a security risk — if someone gains access to your AutoFill-enabled iPhone without your consent, they can make purchases, sign up for services, and more, all without needing to know your passcode.

If you'd rather not take the risk, AutoFill makes it easy to enable or disable any of its features. Jump over to Settings –> Safari –> AutoFill, then take a look at your options:

  • If you don't want AutoFill to automatically fill out your contact info, such as your name, address, email address, and date of birth, disable "Use Contact Info."
  • If you don't want AutoFill to automatically suggest a username and password when logging into a site, disable "Names and Passwords."
  • If you don't want AutoFill to automatically suggest a credit card when making a purchase, disable "Credit Cards."

Speaking of credit cards, Safari lets you remove any saved credit cards you have by tapping Saved Credit Cards, then presenting your passcode, Touch ID, or Face ID. You can delete any or all of your saved cards here by tapping "Edit," selecting the cards you want to remove, then tapping "Delete," or swiping left on each card.

6: Frequently Visited Sites

"Frequently Visited Sites" can be a useful feature — it will show you a list of sites you're prone to access underneath your Favorites when you open a new tab. However, if you don't want onlookers to see which sites you visit, or you aren't comfortable with Safari tracking you in this manner in the first place, this setting is very easy to disable.

Go to Settings –> Safari, then disable "Frequently Visited Sites." You'll notice when you return to Safari that nothing appears under Favorites, so you can rest easy opening Safari around others.

7: Block Pop-ups

While not as much of a nuisance as they were in the past, popups can be an annoying interruption to your web browsing, especially on mobile. The time and effort it takes to allow a popup to open a new tab before you can close it and get back to what you were originally doing can be frustrating. Why not block them entirely?

Unfortunately, many sites require users to have popups enabled for certain features to work. For some, blocking popups just isn't worth it, since the sites they use require them to disable the option constantly.

If you don't believe that applies to you and you'd like to keep popups blocked for good, head over to Settings –> Safari, then make sure "Block Pop-ups" is enabled. You can always come back and disable this feature if need be.

Safari's Privacy & Security Settings

While all of the above settings pertain to privacy in Safari, the app also has a dedicated section in its Settings page — titled PRIVACY & SECURITY — to options that control privacy and security. The following settings are found in this section, so if you want to follow along, just find it under Settings –> Safari.

8: Prevent Cross-Site Tracking

Cross-site tracking is when one website you visit is able to target your internet activity even after you've left the original site entirely. It's how you end up with ads for shoes after looking at one pair on Amazon — you leave that webpage with a cookie, which allows advertisers to watch and target you on other sites for weeks at a time.

While Safari won't stop this activity from happening altogether, enabling "Prevent Cross-Site Tracking" tells Safari to periodically delete this tracking data, unless you revisit the site where the tracker originates. It's not a perfect system, but it'll help cut down on third parties following your every move.

For more info on cross-site tracking and Safari, check out our guide below.

9: Block All Cookies

Cookies aren't tasty on the internet. Instead, they're used to track users on websites. A site can use a cookie to recognize when a particular user returns to their servers, however, as learned with cross-site tracking, it can also use cookies to track them on other sites as well.

You can enable "Block All Cookies" to sharply reduce the tracking abilities of websites around the internet. However, many sites and functions won't work correctly unless you have cookies enabled — for instance, you'll be logged out of any sites you visit as soon as you close the tab.

If you feel your internet activity won't be interrupted by blocking all cookies, go ahead and enable this feature to enjoy a lot more privacy on the internet. Just keep an eye out — if you find things aren't working as they should, simply disable "Block All Cookies" again and call it a day.

10: Ask Websites Not to Track Me

This feature works just like it sounds — when enabled, "Ask Websites Not to Track Me" tasks Safari with asking each site you visit not to track you. It sounds silly, but if the website in question complies, you won't be tracked. Pretty neat.

Of course, the fatal flaw here is that it's up to each site to honor your request. Sites can ignore Safari and track you all the same. That's why it's a good idea to also enable "Prevent Cross-Site Tracking" if you're worried enough websites won't comply here.

For more info, check out our article about this setting below:

11: Fraudulent Website Warning

You can't trust anyone on the internet, and neither can Safari — "Fraudulent Website Warning" is a helpful tool that alerts you any time Safari thinks you're visiting a site with malicious intent, usually due to suspected phishing.

When you use Safari with "Fraudulent Website Warning" enabled, your iPhone may take information calculated from the site you're trying to access to Google Safe Browsing and Tencent Safe Browsing. These services help Safari decide whether the website you're visiting is safe or not. If they deem the site to be the latter, you'll receive a popup warning letting you know the website could be fraudulent.

Keep this one enabled — without it, the sites you're entering your personal data into might not be what you think they are.

12: Camera & Microphone Access

You'll find some websites you visit in Safari will require access to your iPhone's camera and microphone in order to function properly. If you want to use these sites, there's no other way around it — you'll have to leave "Camera & Microphone Access" enabled.

If you know you don't visit any sites that require access, or don't need to use the functions on sites that do, you can disable this setting. While you won't be able to use certain features of websites that need your camera and microphone, you can have the peace of mind that you've denied all sites you visit on Safari from using these two pieces of technology in your iPhone.

13: Check for Apple Pay

When enabled, "Check for Apple Pay" allows websites to see if you've enabled Apple Pay on your iPhone. In turn, these sites can better highlight Apple Pay options for visitors who have it.

While it can be a convenient way to access Apple Pay when making a purchase, this setting isn't necessary for using the payment option in Safari. You can still pay for items with Apple Pay, even with "Check for Apple Pay" disabled, so some might not see the benefit in handing over extraneous control of their iPhone to any site that wants it.

14: Clear History and Website Data

Browsing the web inevitably leaves it mark on your device. From your search history to the cookies you pick up along the way, there's a lot of info on your iPhone letting anyone who gets access see what you've been up to.

If you want to make sure that doesn't happen, consider tapping "Clear History and Website Data." This option will clear all browsing data, including your web history and cookies. While this won't clear your saved passwords, bookmarks, or Favorites, you won't have to worry about the remnants of your web activity on your iPhone.

Once you tap this option, simply select "Clear History and Data" to complete the process.

If you're unsure if you want all of this information gone, you can also delete website data piece by piece. Tap "Advanced" at the bottom of the display, then tap "Website Data." Here, you can see all the website data stored on your iPhone, as well as how much space each takes up. You can delete entries by swiping left on each, or by tapping "Edit," tapping the red button next to an entry, then tapping "Delete."

Of course, you can tackle your browsing history in-app by tapping the book icon at the bottom of the display, tapping the clock icon to access your history, then tapping "Clear" at the bottom of the display. Then, simply choose your desired timeframe for deletion. You can also swipe left on entries to delete one-by-one.

Cover image, photos, and screenshots by Jake Peterson/Gadget Hacks

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