How To: Stop Apps from Asking to Track Your iPhone Activity Across Other Apps & Websites

Stop Apps from Asking to Track Your iPhone Activity Across Other Apps & Websites

If you're like me, you're not too keen on being tracked. So when an app asks you if it can track your iPhone activity across other programs and websites for ads or data brokers, the answer is pretty much always "no." If you're tired of choosing "Ask App Not to Track" over and over again, there is a way to stop apps from even being able to ask in the first place.

Before we get to the importance of blocking tracking across apps and websites, let's get straight to disabling it system-wide. While the setting has been available in versions of iOS 14, it hasn't been all that useful because developers won't be required to ask for tracking permission until iOS 14.5. That said, it seems some developers have complied with the new rules early, as apps like Reuters News and NBA: Live Sports & Scores will ask for tracking permissions in iOS 14.4.

To stop tracking requests in iOS 14.4 and later, navigate to Settings –> Privacy –> Tracking. Here, you'll see a list of all the apps you gave or rejected tracking permissions for, and you can toggle these apps on and off on an individual basis as needed.

To disable all future requests, toggle off the "Allow Apps to Request to Track" switch at the top of this page. With that setting disabled, most of the apps on your iPhone won't be able to (or aren't supposed to) track your activity across other apps and websites.

If you've already provided some apps tracking privileges on your iPhone, when you turn off "Allow Apps to Request to Track," you'll be asked if "you want to ask apps you previously allowed to track to stop tracking?" You can hit "Ask Apps to Stop Tracking" or "Allow Apps to Continue Tracking," depending on your preference.

With that out of the way, let's talk about why it's good to do beyond just removing annoying pop-up prompts begging you for tracking privileges.

When an app tracks you across other apps and sites, it's because they're trying to provide you with more targeted advertising. They could also be measuring your responses and actions to advertising to adjust how they deliver ads. And worst of all, they could be sharing your information with data brokers who take your data and combine it with other info about you to sell off as a full package.

Most of the time, apps will not perform any of that tracking without your permission. So if you block all apps from being able to ask if they can track you, any tracking requests apps try to show you will be blocked. At the same time, those apps are informed that you don't want to be tracked, and they should not be able to access your iPhone's advertising identifier (which was controlled in older iOS versions via the Limit Ad Tracking switch).

Unfortunately, permission is not a hard and fast rule. According to Apple, some apps might try to track you without getting the OK from you first.

In some circumstances, the app developer is not required by Apple to ask for your permission. The app developer may combine information about you or your device for targeted advertising or advertising measurement purposes without your permission if the developer is doing so solely on your device and not sending the information off your device in a way that identifies you.

In addition, the app developer may share information about you or your device with data brokers without your permission for fraud detection or prevention or security purposes. However, the data broker must be performing the fraud detection or prevention or security services only on behalf of the app developer, which means the data broker cannot use the information about you or your device for any other purposes.

— Apple

Those reasons seem understandable, as long as the developers and data brokers follow the rules set forth. But you may never know one way or the other. You could view the detailed privacy information that developers are now required to submit with their apps on the App Store since iOS 14.3, which gives you a decent idea of each app's data collection practices.

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Cover photo, screenshots, and GIF by Jake Peterson/Gadget Hacks

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