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How to prevent your iPhone from spilling location data left and right

A plethora of websites and applications require access to users’ geolocation details these days, but this permission is a far cry from being mandatory for most of them to do their thing. Of course a maps app or an e-commerce website would need this kind of information to operate as intended or to deliver personalized experience. But it’s hard to think of a strong reason why a recipe site or a video streaming service has to know your whereabouts.

Some of you may think it’s no big deal, but there are plenty of privacy pitfalls to beware of. There’s no guarantee that the overly “curious” service follows safe data storage practices, takes the ethical aspect of information processing seriously, and sticks with a nondisclosure commitment when approached by third-parties. Thankfully, it’s easy to avoid leaking those potentially fingerprintable geolocation breadcrumbs on an iPhone. The tips below will point you in the right direction.

1. Use a VPN

This is the first recommendation that jumps to mind in this context, and for good reason. What is a VPN on iPhone? It is the most reliable way to keep your location secret at all times. The iOS app encrypts all of your Internet traffic and sends it via a secure server while also hiding your actual IP address from prying eyes, whether those are hackers, ISPs, search engines, or the authorities.

To err on the side of extra caution, consider enabling the kill switch, a feature that knocks your iPhone offline automatically if a connection is interrupted for whatever reason. All in all, a VPN can effectively bridge the privacy gap when it comes to protecting your geolocation data.

2. Toggle geolocation tracking off

This is the most basic mechanism to prevent your current location from being revealed. Fortunately, it’s a no-brainer. Most web browsers, apps and operating systems allow you to disable location services. In your iPhone’s settings, there is an option to stop specific applications from tracking your whereabouts (head to Settings > Privacy & Security > Location Services). You can take the protection further by turning on the Do Not Track option in your preferred browser’s privacy controls.

3. Keep an eye on DNS leaks

Be sure to verify regularly that your DNS service isn’t spilling your personal information. For those uninitiated, DNS (Domain Name Server) is an instrument that translates hostnames to IP addresses. Simply look up “DNS leak test” on a search engine and use one of the top results to check if you are good to go. Additionally, consider putting your preferred browser to the test in terms of privacy leaks.

4. Disable cookies

Another worthwhile method to keep your personal data safe is to delete cookies or turn them off altogether. This isn’t a cure-all but it does add an extra layer of privacy to your online routine. The flip side of disabling cookies, though, is that benign Internet services won’t be able to individualize your experience and display the best offers that match your interests.

5. Mind the plugins

Browser plugins are among the weakest links in an iPhone user’s security practices because they might harvest sensitive information in the background. For proper anonymity, you are better off steering clear of plugins completely. If this is a no-go (it probably is), configure your system to request permissions before an arbitrary plugin is triggered. Executing specific plugins in an isolated sandbox makes sense, too.

6. Disable JavaScript

Although JavaScript is an important component of the present-day web surfing that underlies, among other things, including interactive elements of web pages, it has gained notoriety for having numerous security flaws. In particular, it can be abused to submit verbose details about you and your device to any server around the world. The biggest hurdle about turning off JavaScript is that the vast majority of websites use it. Therefore, it might be a good idea to define a whitelist of trusted domains in your browser that are allowed to run JavaScript.

7. Opt for anti-tracking tools

Use apps that deliver anti-tracking functionality. Thankfully, there are plenty of these to choose from. Adblock Plus for Safari, Ghostery, TulaByte and Firewall & System Tor are some of the effective solutions of that sort. They determine which sites attempt to surveil your web surfing and block them automatically.

8. Use Google with caution

Let’s face it, everyone searches for information on Google and most of us use its other services. The caveat is that the tech giant collects numerous types of information about users for advertising and other purposes. Keep this in mind the next time you google something.

9. Turn off WebRTC

WebRTC is a technology that helps browsers exchange multimedia and other data in real time. Unfortunately, it may leak your IP address to remote observers. To prevent an adverse scenario like that, it’s recommended to disable this service.

To do it on an iPhone, go to Settings > Safari > Advanced > Experimental Features. Then, toggle the “Remove Legacy WebRTC API” option to the ON position. If, for instance, Firefox is the default browser, type “about:config” in the URL bar, find the parameter that says “media.peerconnection.enabled”, and set it to False. For other browsers, consider adding an appropriate extension to switch off WebRTC.

10. Be careful on social networks

To hide your location from snoops when using social networks, don’t disclose too much information about yourself, refrain from using the geo-tagging feature, and do not post your real whereabouts for everyone to see. Keep in mind that minimum exposure of personally identifiable data (PID) is a particularly important building block of safe social media activities.

Summing it up

Leaving privacy to chance is risky business, and the best practices to safeguard location data are definitely at the forefront of proper online hygiene. Even if this info alone isn’t enough to pull off identity theft or encroach on one’s personal life, it can allow double-dealing services to profile people when intertwined with other publicly accessible details. The recommendations above will help you significantly reduce the odds of your iPhone geolocation being tracked. It may also be a good idea to combine some of them for maximum effectiveness.


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