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How to stop Facebook and other apps from secretly tracking your iPhone browsing activity

By Kara Santos Published Apr 27, 2021 2:12 pm

Sick of seeing ads popping up on your Facebook feed and other apps for products you were just browsing at on Amazon or other websites?

Apple has rolled out a long-awaited privacy feature that prompts iPhone and iPad users to opt out of tracking in apps including social media giant Facebook.

According to an update from the Apple Newsroom on Monday (April 26), the latest version of the company’s mobile operating system, iOS 14.5 allows users to choose whether they want to allow specific apps to monitor their behavior and share data with third parties to target ads.

The new feature, aptly called App Tracking Transparency,  is a pop-up that requests authorization to access app-related data for tracking the user or the device. The feature has been made available as a free software update.

Apple released an informative video explaining just how data is collected by third parties to introduce their App Tracking Transparency privacy feature.

In a privacy experiment conducted by the Washington Post, it was found that 5,400 iPhone apps were using trackers and, in some examples, were sending personal data like phone numbers and users’ locations to third-party research and marketing firms.

Before 14.5, you could turn tracking off for all of your apps by going to Settings > Privacy > Tracking and turning off “Allow Apps to Request to Track.” 

However, the new version of iOS allows you to be more specific. 

With iOS 14.5, Apple will force apps to get user approval to use trackers. Users now have total control with the latest operating system to fully block iPhone app tracking. 

When you install a new app, you won’t have to do anything; you’ll be automatically asked whether you want the new app to track you.

How to allow/block iPhone app tracking

Take note that some apps may not function properly without the ability to use trackers.

If you want to see which apps have asked for permission to track, and possibly change their tracking settings, you can just go to that same Tracking page.

If you allow tracking for an app, it will appear in your settings that you can manage at any time. Here’s where to find that:

  1. On your iPhone, head to Settings
  2. Swipe down and tap Privacy
  3. Choose Tracking at the top
  4. The default setting is to allow apps to ask for permission to track you
  5. Toggle it off to block all apps from being able to track you—and even ask to track
    • Choose “Ask Apps to Stop Tracking” or;
    • Choose “Allow Apps to Continue Tracking” for any you’ve already approved
  6. If/when you do give permission for an app to track you, you’ll see a list of them under the Privacy > Tracking settings
  7. You can permit or revoke that permission for each individual app by tapping the toggle next to it

You can still use “Allow Apps to Request to Track” to turn off permission for all of your current (and future) apps.

(Images via Apple Newsroom)