Friday, 12 May 2017 08:54

How private is your iPhone data, and how to protect your iPhone privacy


How private is your iPhone, and the personal data stored on it? We examine the iPhone's built-in privacy measures, explain how to protect your iPhone privacy, and argue that Apple is more deserving of your trust - and your data - than Google. Latest: iMessage's end-to-end encryption has been improved.


The biggest political battle of the second half of the 2010s may well be privacy.

At time of writing it's US presidential primary season, and privacy is one of the few areas of genuine disagreement. (Ted Cruz is against expansion of governmental surveillance, Trump and Rubio are loudly in favour of it, and Bernie Sanders has called NSA activities "Orwellian". Hillary Clinton's position, as on many things, remains somewhat unclear.)

Most of all this battle will be fought in the realm of technology, where corporate behemoths Apple and Google represent (at least in the mind of the average tech user) opposite ends of the spectrum. Apple makes lots of noise about protecting its users' privacy, while Google… well, we'll talk about that in a moment.

Still, talk is cheap. If you're wondering how seriously Apple takes privacy - and about the protections that are in place to protect the privacy of data stored on your iPhone or other Apple device or service, such as the potentially sensitive medical data stored by CareKit apps - then wonder no longer, because we've put together a list of the 5 reasons why we believe that Apple respects customers' data privacy more than Google.

Updated 30 November with iCloud privacy concerns.

Jump to the latest details & timeline of Apple's privacy battle with the FBI

iPhones are equipped with a number of powerful privacy measures

The iPhone is not easy to break into, and quite aside from Apple's corporate position on privacy, the smartphone itself has several protective features that help to safeguard your privacy.

Best iPhone privacy measures: Passcodes

First up: we always recommend that readers should set a passcode for their iPhones. This simple measure can be surprisingly effective at stopping people from getting at your data, as the FBI discovered recently.

How to improve your iPhone privacy: As simple as an iPhone's passcode can be - we'd recommend a custom alphanumeric code, not four digits, but even the latter is a deterrent to casual identity theft - it takes a lot of work to crack one. This is particularly the case because iOS builds in delays after you get the passcode wrong: each computation is deliberately designed to take longer than it needs to, at 80 milliseconds, and if you get it wrong six times in a row the iPhone is locked for a minute; further incorrect guesses result in longer delays. The latter measure in particular prevents hackers from using brute force to machine-guess hundreds of codes in quick succession. See also: How to make iPhone data go further

The six-wrong-attempts delay is always activated, but there's a second more drastic measure you can choose to activate if you are carrying highly sensitive or business-critical data. If you want, iOS will erase your data if someone (including you!) gets the passcode wrong 10 times in a row. Go to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode, enter your passcode and then scroll down to Erase Data. But only do this if you are willing to run the risk of accidentally erasing everything if you get drunk.

How private is your iPhone: Passcodes

Best iPhone privacy measures: Touch ID

The iPhone 5s and later come with Touch ID fingerprint scanners. You can use your fingerprint to unlock the device itself, but third-party developers have for some time been able to build Touch ID into their apps - enabling you to fingerprint-protect password keepers, banking data, health data and so on. As of iOS 9.3, you can use Touch ID - and passwords, for the matter - to protect individual notes in the Notes app.

Fingerprints aren't necessarily more secure than passcodes and passwords - a reasonably long and alphanumeric passcode is extraordinarily time-consuming to crack - but they are far more convenient, which makes it much more likely that we will use them.

How private is your iPhone data?

But the benefits of Touch ID are not straightforward, and my colleague Glenn Fleischman discusses this in a separate article, The scary side of Touch ID. As he puts it:

"Someone might be able to coerce a password from you with a wrench... But it still requires that threat and your acquiescence. [...] Mobile fingerprint sensors change that equation dramatically. An individual who wants some of your information must only get hold of your device, ensure it hasn't been rebooted, and hold an appropriate digit still for long enough to validate one's fingerprint.

"As I touch, touch, touch, I think about about Hong Kong and mainland China; about Afghanistan and Iraq; about Ferguson, Missouri, and police overreach and misconduct; and extrajudicial American operations abroad and domestic warrantless procedures and hearings about which we know few details. I think about the rate of domestic violence in this country.

Source: This article was published on


World's leading professional association of Internet Research Specialists - We deliver Knowledge, Education, Training, and Certification in the field of Professional Online Research. The AOFIRS is considered a major contributor in improving Web Search Skills and recognizes Online Research work as a full-time occupation for those that use the Internet as their primary source of information.

Get Exclusive Research Tips in Your Inbox

Receive Great tips via email, enter your email to Subscribe.