iPhones and privacy have a tricky history. For some people, it seems like Apple wants to collect as much data about them as possible – and that’s partially true (it’s anonymized).
But Apple also tries to give its customers as many options for privacy as possible and we’ve written about many of them before. Still, a lot of iPhone users ask “Can’t I just turn my phone off to avoid tracking?”
That’s a more complex question than it might seem. There are a few different types of tracking, and they can be affected differently by shutting your phone down.
When we say an iPhone is “turned off” for the purposes of this article, we mean fully shut down. That means holding the volume up button and side button for a second, then swiping “Slide to power off.” Here’s what you need to know.
App tracking refers to all apps on your iPhone that use location-based services to know where you are. Most apps do this so they can offer information or ads based on your current location (i.e., Maps giving you directions based on your position). Third-party apps may also collect this data for their own analysis, which makes some people uncomfortable. You can turn off location-based services for apps in Settings > Privacy for customized controls.
However, these services all depend on basic cell tower and GPS positioning to know where your phone is at any given time. If your phone is fully shut down, it’s not sending or receiving any of those signals, so app trackers will only know the last location you were.
However, in this particular case that’s not very effective for many apps, because when you turn your phone back on and open them up, they’ll immediately track your location again. That’s important for apps like finding local restaurants with Doordash, but you can still go into specific app settings and turn off location-based services whenever you want – which is probably the better choice here.
Apple Ads and Alerts
Apple may also track your location for picking the right Apple ads for you or sending specific types of Apple Store alerts based on where you are.
You can find more about these settings by going to Settings and then Privacy in your iPhone.
However, Apple essentially uses the same methods to track as third-party apps do, so shutting off your phone will keep Apple from knowing where you are or customizing any ads/alerts for you.
Did you know that Apple also keeps track of your “significant locations”? It uses this data to suggest navigation points when using CarPlay, or making other suggestions based on where you like to take photos, etc. And that can be very handy. But, there are ways you can manage, erase, or turn off Significant Locations entirely.
Shutting your phone down doesn’t really work here, because Apple collects this information based on how your phone is used. Turning it on at home or work will still send Apple data about those significant locations, which may or may not be a big deal. If you’re really worried about privacy, we suggest just turning this feature off entirely.
The Find My App
Apple’s Find My app is designed to find missing iPhones or friends with ease. But that also means it needs to know where your phone is at all times. If you don’t like that, turning off your phone is the best solution. The Find My app can work with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, so shutting down your phone is the easiest way to stop it from being tracked temporarily.
Smart Home Tracking
Your iPhone can also employ tracking to see where you are enabling geofencing capabilities (like unlocking your front door when your car approaches your house, etc.). Usually, these can also be turned off via the Home app or through individual apps for your smart devices. However, if your phone is off these capabilities shouldn’t function either.