Many of us are becoming more and more concerned about having our online activities tracked. Some of us want to avoid a barrage of constant marketers and spam, while others want to dodge overzealous content blocking from their Internet service provider. Generally, though, most of us simply want to use the Internet as we please without our browsing being snooped on and logged by the authorities.
The default iOS web browser, Safari, usually tracks your web movements with cookies that enable you to quickly return to the pages and products you’ve looked at previously. It also saves your web history, which can be useful if you want to quickly return to a page you’ve visited before. You can use a Private version of Safari that doesn’t track you in this way, as we show you below.
However, for complete privacy it’s better to use a proxy server that can mask your real details. So here’s how you can temporarily surf in secret in Safari, and how to use the Tor network and the Onion web browser to surf stealthily all the time.
Stay Anonymous in Safari
1. Delete Yourself
If you’re worried about someone checking the websites you’ve visited, delete your Safari browsing history by tapping Settings > Safari > Clear History and also Clear Cookies and Data. Next, tap Advanced > Website Data, and tap Remove All Website Data. To stop your web use being snooped on, use a private browsing session. Launch Safari and then tap the + sign in the top right. Tap Private in the bottom-left corner.
2. A Private Session
A “Close All Tabs?” query box appears. Tap either Close All or Keep All, depending on whether you want to return to those pages later. When you surf in Private mode in Safari, web pages are distinguished with a black URL bar. Otherwise, browse the web as normal. Tap Private again to revert to standard web browsing. You’ll get a prompt about keeping tabs for sites you’ve just visited.
3. Lose Trackers
Safari has a Do Not Track setting you can switch on permanently, as well as an option to limit the amount that your web browsing is logged. In Settings, tap Safari > Privacy & Security and turn on Do Not Track. Not all advertisers respect it, but this will stop some of them tracking you. We recommend you turn on Limit Ad Tracking and reset the Advertising Identifier under Settings > Privacy > Advertising.
4. Limit Trackers
Apps that don’t really require your location often collect it to help advertisers target ads. You can turn off Location Services in Settings > Privacy > Location Services, but this is a bit drastic. Instead, switch off apps individually in the Location Services screen. Tap System Services at the bottom and switch off Diagnostics & Usage, Location-Based iAds and Popular Near Me. Finally, tap the Status Bar Icon to On.
5. See What Tracks You
Although lots of services log what you do online, the purpose of this tracking varies greatly. To see what web trackers are active, install the free Ghostery app from the App Store. This lets you block or allow trackers and analytics tools. Ghostery also includes the DuckDuckGo search engine mentioned earlier. Tap the blue Ghostery tool icon in the browser to select View All Trackers, Block All Trackers, and so on.
Hide Your Location and Surf in Secret
A. Use Tor
Install Onion Browser ($0.99 from the App Store), tap to launch it and allow it to connect to the Tor network. The initial connection will take up to a minute.
B. Spoofing Your IP Address
Connect your device to check.torproject.org and you’ll get a message confirming that your web surfing is now being routed through it. You’ll see a message showing the IP address your device now pretends to be using — this process is called “spoofing.”
C. Use Anonymous Search
You can now explore the web using Onion Browser. It works well with the duckduckgo.com search engine, which prides itself on its lack of tracking.
D. Unstick Onion Browser
Sometimes, typing in a web address in Onion Browser has no effect. This is because it occasionally conflicts with dormant apps in iOS. Tap the arrow at the bottom of the browser screen to bring up its menu, then tap Help/Support and click the force-quit link. Then launch Onion again to start a new session.
E. Get a New IP Identity
If you think your cover might be blown, tap the arrow at the bottom of Onion Browser, then tap New Identity in the menu that appears. A new IP address will be generated for you.
F. Bookmark Useful Pages
You can still bookmark useful sites in the usual way by tapping the menu arrow at the bottom of the page followed by Bookmark Current Page. To view these Onion bookmarks, tap the book icon at the bottom right of the page.
Tor is useful if you need to be sure that no one can identify your iOS device or the sites you visit, but it’s slow. Another way to surf privately is to use a VPN (virtual private network). This creates a tunnel through which your device establishes a web connection. If you need to send private emails at an unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot, using a VPN is a must. Install TunnelBear VPN (free from the App Store), create an account, then allow TunnelBear to install its VPN software profile on your device. Type your passcode to confirm and tap Done. To use TunnelBear, select it from the Settings > VPN menu and tap VPN to enable it. The status will then show Connected. You can now get online securely, although the app requires a monthly subscription.