How to hide (and why) your iPhone’s name

Your iPhone is not very good at keeping secrets. Fortunately, there is something that can be done about it.

What we do online, the apps we download, and often times, where we go is all the data that can be associated with what is called an iPhone’s advertising identifier (Android phones also have a similar advertising ID). Combined with commercially available databases, this unique alphanumeric string could be enough for third parties to link iPhone actions to the real name of its owner.

Perhaps the most striking example of this is when the New York Times published an article exposing the movements of people involved in the January 6 Uprising in the United States Capitol Building. The paper obtained a set of information that linked the location data of the participants’ phones to the ad IDs, which, along with other available databases, allowed the paper to associate the location data with real people.

Assuming they play by Apple’s rules, App developers get access to a phone’s advertising ID by simply requesting it on the phone itself. Think of Advertising ID as the most popular web cookie that tracks you on the internet, remembering what you do and sharing information with websites along the way. Your phone also contains something like a cookie: this is the advertisement ID. Your phone’s advertising identifier is another digital “road sign” that points directly to you.

If you want some privacy when you go, for example, to the doctor, church, or club, this conversation should worry you. Many applications on your phone have access to your advertising ID and track your location. While apps may promise to store this data anonymously, the Times article provides an example of how easy it can be to associate identifiers (and all the data associated with them) with real names. The paper states: “Many companies offer tools to allow anyone with data to match IDs with other databases.” These databases may contain your real name and address.

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But there is a way to respond.

Apple is giving users the option, despite being buried in iPhone settings, to deny apps access to your Advertising ID. Disabling the app’s access to location data is also an important step, but there are other ways apps can estimate your phone’s location, such as connections to WiFi networks. Also, you should not allow apps to access your location data unless they badly need it to work, like Maps.

To deny apps access to your phone’s advertising ID:

  • Go to Settings ”
  • Click on “Privacy”
  • Select “tracker”
  • Disable the option that says “Request Activity Tracking”

Done.

Interestingly, the list page does not immediately clarify that this action will have the desired effect. But it is. Clicking “More Information” takes the stranger to a long page of text explaining what’s going on behind the scenes. When you refuse to allow the app to track you, the app is blocked from accessing your device’s advertising identifier (which was previously controlled via the ad tracking restriction setting on your device).

Samantha Arnold

<p class="sign">"Web fanatic. Travel scholar. Certified music evangelist. Coffee expert. Unapologetic internet guru. Beer nerd."</p>

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