Apple iOS 15 Privacy Guide


There are some changes within the latest version of iOS (15) released in September of 2021. Any time a new major version is released, I use it as an opportunity to rebuild any devices in my arsenal or purchase new devices already containing the latest operating system. I currently recommend the iPhone SE (2nd Generation) if you are considering the purchase of a new Apple device. It is the most recent version which offers fingerprint support (instead of Face ID), and is quite affordable ($399). The following guide walks you through my considerations when configuring iOS 15, including scenarios for any user. Please read and understand the entire guide before you take any action. First, choose the appropriate option for you (three options).


Option I: An updated device with same Apple ID

You may simply want to update your current device to iOS 15 and apply these privacy configurations. This can be beneficial if you do not care about switching to a new Apple ID and want to keep your current app configurations (especially paid apps). This is not my choice, but I respect it for those who are concerned more about security than privacy from Apple. Conduct the following on your current device. Skip this section if you want to establish a new Apple ID.

Settings>General>Software Update
Confirm update request
Reboot to complete installation
Turn on device
Click "Continue"
Click "Don't Share" iPhone Analytics
Click "Continue" and "Get Started"
Check Settings>Apple ID Account>iCloud and confirm it is "Off"
If "On", consider disabling or the tutorial in Secition VI
Continue to Section IV

Option II: A formatted device and new Apple ID

The following steps assume you wish to "start over" with an iPhone which already has an Apple ID, and you want to reset the device and switch to a new Apple ID. All steps assume you will be creating a new Apple ID for your new device and that you do not have any apps which you cannot reinstall easily (consider paid apps and MySudo accounts). Apple will know that the same device was used by the two accounts, but data collection will be isolated between each Apple ID.

Update current device with "old" Apple ID to iOS 15
Settings>General>Software Update
Continue through prompts and reboot
Backup the device to a local computer (Mac or iTunes)
Settings>Apple Account>Sign Out
Settings>General>Transfer or Reset iPhone>Erase All Content and Settings
Allow phone to erase and reboot
Select language and region, then click "Set Up Manually"
Select and join available Wi-Fi
Click "Continue"
Set up Touch ID if desired
Click "Passcode Options" and choose "Custom Numeric Code"
Create a strong passcode and click "Next"
Confirm passcode and click "Next"
Choose "Don't transfer data and apps"
Click "Forgot password or don't have an Apple ID"
Choose "Set Up later" in Settings
Choose "Don't Use"
Agree to the terms of service
Click "Continue" or "Customize Settings"
Choose "Not Now" for "iMessage and Facetime"
Choose "Disable Location Services"
Choose "Setup Later in Settings" (Siri)
Choose "Setup Later in Settings" (Screen Time)
Click "Don't Share" iPhone Analytics
Select desired appearance and zoom
Click "Get Started" to exit the menu
Continue to Section IV

Option III: A brand new device

If you purchased a new device, this is a great opportunity to establish a new Apple ID and prepaid cellular account in order to stop the tracking of your old accounts and restart the data collection process with anonymous details. Conduct the following on your new device.

Turn on device
Select language and region, then click "Set Up Manually"
Select and join available Wi-Fi
Click "Continue"
Set up Touch ID if desired
Click "Passcode Options" and choose "Custom Numeric Code"
Create a strong passcode and click "Next"
Confirm passcode and click "Next"
Choose "Don't transfer data and apps"
Click "Forgot password or don't have an Apple ID"
Choose "Set Up later" in Settings
Choose "Don't Use"
Agree to the terms of service
Click "Continue" or "Customize Settings"
Choose "Not Now" for "iMessage and Facetime"
Choose "Disable Location Services"
Choose "Setup Later in Settings" (Siri)
Choose "Setup Later in Settings" (Screen Time)
Click "Don't Share" iPhone Analytics
Select desired appearance and zoom
Click "Get Started" to exit the menu
Confirm iOS 15 is installed at Settings>General>About>Software Version

If the device has iOS 14 installed, Update to iOS 15 with the following:
Settings>General>Software Update
Reboot to complete installation
Repeat through prompts using the previous instructions
Continue to Section IV

If the device has iOS 15 installed, Continue to Section IV

Section IV: iOS Configuration

This section should apply to all three options previously presented. Once you have iOS 15 installed and booted, the following configurations should be considered through the Settings menu. Note that some of these settings may disable features which you find desirable, and some options here might not be present within your device. Research any modifications and apply settings appropriate for you.

Settings>Wi-Fi: Off (If not used-preferred)
Settings>Bluetooth: Off (If not used-preferred)
Settings>Cellular: Disable access to apps which don't need data, such as Find My, Contacts, etc.
*If using ONLY cellular data, and not Wi-Fi, you can use this menu as an application firewall.
Settings>Notifications>Show previews: Never
Settings>Notifications>Scheduled Summary: Off
Settings>Notifications>Siri Suggestions: Disable all
Settings>Notifications: Disable notifications on desired apps, especially banners on sensitive apps
Settings>Notifications: If desired, disable all Government Alerts
Settings>General>AirPlay & Handoff: Disable all
Settings>General>Picture in Picture: Disable
Settings>Siri & Search: Disable all
Settings>Siri & Search>(each app): Disable all
Settings>Privacy>Location services: Disable all
Settings>Privacy>Tracking: Disable all
Settings>Privacy>Motion & Fitness: Disable all
Settings>Privacy>Analytics & Improvements: Disable all
Settings>Privacy>Apple Advertising>Personalized Ads: Disable
Settings>App Store>Video Autoplay: Off
Settings>App Store>In-App Ratings & Reviews: Disable
Settings>Passwords>Security Recommendations>Detect Compromised Passwords: Disable
Settings>Messages>iMessage: Disable
Settings>Facetime>Facetime: Disable
Settings>Safari>Search Engine: DuckDuckGo
Settings>Safari>Search Engine Suggestions: Disable
Settings>Safari>Safari Suggestions: Disable
Settings>Safari>Quick Website Search: Disable
Settings>Safari>Preload Top Hit: Disable
Settings>Safari>AutoFill: Disable All
Settings>Safari>Prevent Cross-Site Tracking: Enabled
Settings>Safari>Fraudulent Website Warning: Disable
Settings>Safari>Privacy Preserving Ad Measurement: Disable
Settings>Safari>Check for Apple Pay: Disable
Settings>Safari>Camera: Deny
Settings>Safari>Microphone: Deny
Settings>Safari>Location: Deny
Settings>Maps>Share ETA: Disable
Settings>Maps>Air Quality Index: Disable
Settings>Maps>Weather Conditions: Disable
Settings>Maps>Ratings and Photos: Disable
Settings>Maps>Show Ratings and Photos Suggestion: Disable
Settings>Maps>Follow Up by Email> Disable
Settings>Shortcuts>iCloud Sync: Disable
Settings>Music>Show Apple Music: Disable
Settings>Camera>Scan QR Codes: Disable

Section V: Personalization

Remove any unwanted optional stock apps, such as Home, Translate, Books, iTunes Store, Watch, Tips, Facetime, Calendar, Mail, Notes, Reminders, News, TV, Stocks, etc.
Change wallpaper
Remove unwanted Widgets from screens
Remove unwanted apps from home screen
Create new app shortcuts if desired
Rearrange desired apps

Section VI: Apple ID

If you began at sections II (A brand new device) or III (A formatted device), you should now have an iPhone with iOS 15 and several custom configurations. However, you have not connected an Apple ID to your device yet. You cannot download any apps. I like to establish a new Apple ID at least once a year in order to slightly confuse Apple's data collection systems. I insist on a new Apple ID and prepaid cellular account any time I switch to a new device. In iOS 15, signing in through the standard Apple ID menu logs you into iCloud without an option to disable overall synchronization (you can only disable individual services). This is dangerous, especially after rebooting during an update. The following should bypass the mandatory iCloud option and establish a new Apple ID for your device. Users who began at Option I can skip this section.

Open "App Store"
Click "Continue"
Click "Turn off Personalized Ads"
Click Profile icon in upper right
Click "Create New Apple ID"
Provide (and document) desired Email and Password
Provide (and document) desired Name and DOB
Disable Apple Updates
If prompted, choose "None" as payment type
Insert desired Street number, City, State, and Zip
Provide VOIP number and verify via text
Verify email confirmation code if prompted

Note: I was able to create an account by providing a name, new email address, and VOIP number (Google Voice). Your mileage will vary here. Since Apple receives the number assigned to your SIM, I have no objection to providing this number if necessary. If the number is a prepaid account in an alias name, I see no harm. I was able to create two new Apple ID accounts behind a VPN with burner email and VOIP numbers without attaching my true prepaid cell number to Apple ID. This is optimal for most people, but might not be for you. For most of my clients, I associate their new anonymous iPhone with their new anonymous Apple ID with their new anonymous prepaid cellular number, all of which are registered in alias names. This provides a simple user experience without the need to juggle VOIP accounts. Apple sees all of this data anyway. We are not as secretive as we might believe.

Open Settings and notice your new Apple ID is present
Click "Finish Setting Up Your iPhone" then "Finish Setting Up"
If prompted, enter your PIN
Click "Cancel" then "Back"
If present, click "Start using iCloud", then "Not Now"
Click your Apple ID account and confirm iCloud is "Off"
Settings>Apple ID>Media & Purchases>View Account>Personalized Recommendations: Disable
Settings>Apple ID>Rating & Reviews: Remove All
Settings>Apple ID> iCloud: Disable all
Settings>Apple ID>Find My>Share My Location: Disable
Settings>Finish Setting Up Your Phone>Set Up Siri: Setup Later in Settings

After you have successfully signed into the App Store, but not iCloud, open the Find My app and confirm that it prompts you to sign in to an account (but don't sign in). This indicates that the basic abilities to track your device are disabled.
Section VII: Cell Access

If activating a new device, I always encourage people to also activate a new prepaid SIM card with a new prepaid account. Insert a prepaid SIM and follow directions appropriate for that carrier. For this demo, I inserted a new Mint Mobile trial SIM and activated the account through the official Mint Mobile app. Calling Mint Mobile support would have also activated the SIM, without the need to install the Mint app (which requires an Apple ID), and allowed me to receive SMS messages within the new iOS device. Consider all options based on your ability to activate Apple ID without a true cellular number. For many of my clients, I activate their new SIM on my clean GrapheneOS device through the Mint Mobile App (Mint does not see my hardware ID); create a new Apple ID within the new iPhone while providing the true prepaid cellular number; confirm a text message to that number on my device; then remove the SIM from my device and place it into the new iPhone. The iPhone is now active with the true prepaid number provided to it, all of which was registered in alias names.

Section VIII: App Considerations (Alphabetical)

App selection and configuration is a very personal choice. I present my preferences here, which may vary greatly compared to yours.

Blokada: This firewall has replaced Lockdown for me. It blocks known analytics, trackers within apps, and many ads, but also displays all connections (which can be disabled individually). There is unlimited modifications which could be made, but I take the following actions:

Blokada>Advanced>All: Disable all lists
Blokada>Advanced>All: Enable "Energized"
Blokada>Advanced>All: Click "Energized"
Blokada>Advanced>All: Enable "Ultimate" and disable all others
*If that is too aggressive, disable "Ulitmate" and enable "Blu"
Blokada>Activity: Click any "iCloud" connections, then "Add to Blocked" (will break iCloud)

The image at the bottom of this post (right) displays Blokada blocking invassive Apple connections.

Firefox Focus: This is my preferred default browser, and I take the following actions:

Settings>Firefox Focus>Default Browser App: Firefox Focus
Firefox Focus>Settings>Safari: Enable
Firefox Focus>Settings>Send Usage Data: Disable
Firefox Focus>Settings>Search Engine: DuckDuckGo
Firefox Focus>Settings>Get Search Suggestions: Disable

MySudo: MySudo users should make sure they have access to their account within a current iOS device if you plan on transferring it to another "new" device. You can then export the account into the new iOS device by going to Settings>Backup & Import/Export>Export To Another Device. If you are resetting your only iOS device, you would need to restore from a good backup. If this is the case, there is little reason to reset your device. You can still create a new Apple ID within your updated device without losing the MySudo accounts currently present. MySudo users should consider all of this and plan appropriately if making any changes. I take the following actions within the app:

MySudo>Settings>Privacy: Disable all
MySudo>Settings>Team Sudo Updates: Disable all
MySudo>Settings>Backup & Import/Export: Set a recovery passwords
Backup the device locally

OsmAnd Maps (https://osmand.net/): Offline maps are vital in scenarios where you do not have internet access or need extreme privacy for a route/location. I take the following actions:

OsmAnd>Menu>Maps & Resources>Continent>Country>State: Download maps
Confirm street/directions access with internet disabled

Protonmail: Regardless of your primary settings, the Protonmail iPhone app will add a footer at the end of every email announcing your usage on a mobile iOS device and set your default browser to Safari. I take the following actions:

Protonmail>Settings>Account>Mobile Signature>Disable
Protonmail>Settings>Default Browser: Firefox Focus

ProtonVPN: if you plan to use both ProtonVPN (or any other VPN) and Blokada simultaneously, you must change the protocol of your VPN. Go to your settings and disable Smart Protocol. This allows you to change your VPN protocol to IKEv2 which will eliminate the conflict with Blokada.

Signal: Signal needs some settings activated and deactivated. I take the following actions:

Signal>Settings>Privacy>Default Timer: Set as desired
Signal>Settings>Privacy>Hide Screen in App Switcher: Enable
Signal>Settings>Privacy>Show Calls in Recents: Disable

Standard Notes: I prefer to hide previews and note dates, and sort my notes by Title. These can be adjusted within the following:

Standard Notes>Settings

Strongbox (https://strongboxsafe.com): This application opens KeePassXC databases. I prefer to keep my mobile version of passwords "Read Only" and only make changes from my laptop when necessary. The biometric option to open databases is available with the paid version. I rely on this app daily.
VOIPSuite: If you use the self-hosted VOIP SMS application (https://inteltechniques.com/sms.html), you may want to create a shortcut with the following steps. Note that a default browser of Firefox Focus may present many undesired login screens. If you rely heavily on this app and do very little web browsing from your device, you may want to leave Safari as your default browser and store your VoipSuite credentials within Keychain for ease of use. Consider this option carefully.

Shortcuts>+>Add Action>Web>Open URLs
Add your SMS app URL and click "Next"
Provide a name for your shortcut
Click the icon to choose a custom option
Click the three dots in the upper right
Click "Add to Home Screen" and "add"
Click Done

The image at the bottom of this post (left) displays my test device's home screen after creating numerous shortcuts. Note that applications with badges (email, messaging, etc.) cannot use shortcuts if you want the notification badges to work.

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