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 iPhoneor 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. Read next: How to protect your privacy on Mac
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.