A “Cutting-Edge” Guide to Privacy For Not-So-“Cutting-Edge” Phones


man on phone

Now that the New Year is upon us, California’s Do Not Track transparency bill AB 370 is officially in effect.  As websites start to disclose in their privacy policies how they respond to Do Not Track signals, it’s helpful to explain a little more about Do Not Track, as well as other options consumers can use to limit how they are tracked online.  FPF’s site AllAboutDNT is designed to serve as a tool for educating consumers about what DNT does and how to turn it on for a variety of devices.

In previous posts, we have reviewed the new privacy features for the most up-to-date versions of both Apple’s iPhone (running iOS 7) and Android (running 4.4 KitKat).  But what if you’re using a slightly older phone that doesn’t run the new operating systems?  In that case, this guide is for you.

iPhone (or iPad)

Check which version of the iOS you’re running by tapping Settings > General > About.  Under “Version” you can see your version of iOS. The most up-to-date version of iOS is  iOS 3.1.3 for the first generation iPhone, iOS 4.2.1 for the iPhone 3G, and iOS 6.1.3 for the iPhone 3GS.  If your phone’s OS is out of date, connect it to your computer and follow the prompts to update it through iTunes.

ios check

The now-unsupported iPhone 3GS running iOS 6 has many of the same privacy controls as its newer counterparts, but some of the controls are located in unusual and hard-to-find places.

                Private Browsing/Do Not Track

iOS 5.1 and newer have a feature called “Private Browsing.”  When Private Browsing is on, webpages you visited are not added to the history list, the names of downloads are removed from the Downloads window, AutoFill information isn’t saved, and searches are not added to the search field’s pop-up menu. Enabling Private Browsing also sets Safari to include a “Do Not Track” signal with all web traffic, which communicates to websites that you do not wish to be tracked.

To turn it on, go to Settings > Safari > Private Browsing. 

private browsing
Note that while Private Browsing is on, websites can’t modify information stored on your computer, so services normally available at such sites may work differently until you turn off Private Browsing.  Any changes made to cookies are discarded when you turn off Private Browsing.  While older versions of the iOS cannot activate this feature, they can still navigate to the Safari Settings menu to clear their history and cookies.

                Limit Ad Tracking (iOS 6 and newer)

In iOS 6, you can turn on “Limit Ad Tracking” by navigating to Settings > General > About > Advertising > Limit Ad Tracking and turning the feature on. (On iOS 7, the control is located at Settings > Privacy > Advertising.)

limit ad tracking

If you choose to limit ad tracking, advertising networks using Apple’s unique Advertising Identifier are prohibited from serving you targeted ads. You will still get ads, but they should not be based on tracking your activity across the different apps you use.

Permissions For Apps (Sorted By Data Type)

You might want to have more control over which apps can access your location,* contacts, calendars, reminders, photos, Bluetooth connection, or Twitter and Facebook accounts.  To adjust these permissions go to Settings > Privacy – make sure that no unwanted or unfamiliar apps have access to your sensitive data.

*In iOS 4 and 5, Location Services is found in the General Settings menu, below “Notifications.”

permissions for apps

 Permissions For “System Services” With Access To Location

At the bottom of the menu within Settings > Privacy > Location Services, you’ll see another box labeled “System Services.”  In this menu, you’ll see a number of options for “Cell Network Search, Compass Calibration, Diagnostics & Usage,” etc.  While each option corresponds to a different service, they only affect whether this data is sent to Apple – they do not affect the device’s functionality.  In other words, you can disable every single feature in that section and your iPhone or iPad will continue to function exactly the same way it always has.

system services

The only exception is “Setting Time Zone” – if you turn this function off, then you won’t be able to set your time zone automatically when no cell tower is within range.  If you frequently travel places where there are no cell towers, then consider leaving this on.

Android Phones

Google sends updates through its Google Play Store without the need for a full update of the phone’s operating system.  As a result, you don’t need to run 4.4 KitKat to control many of your Android phone’s new privacy features.

                Ad Tracking Controls

We discussed in our previous Android blog how ad networks used to track users through the device’s “Android ID.”  The Android ID could only be reset by wiping the entire device, and opting out required the user to visit the third-party ad network’s site and enter in his or her device’s (lengthy) ID.  Now, Users running Android 2.3 or later can use the new “Advertising ID” controls.  In Google Settings (not to be confused with the regular Settings menu), select “Ads” and you will see your Advertising ID.  On this screen you can select the option to “Reset Advertising ID.”  Tap the box labeled “Opt Out of interest-based ads” to opt out.  On the opt-out page, you can also reset your Advertising ID or follow the “Ads settings” link to a page that allows you to adjust your Ads Settings more granularly.

ad id

According to Google, when a user activates the Opt-Out feature, app developers are required to no longer use the advertising identifier for creating user profiles for advertising purposes or for targeting users with interest-based advertising.  They may only use your Advertising ID for contextual advertising (i.e., advertisements that relate to the content on the page on which the ad is displayed), frequency capping, conversion tracking, reporting and security and fraud detection.  (Enforcement of this policy will begin in August.)

App Permissions For Location Data

On older versions of Android (including 4.3 JellyBean), you can control whether apps can use your location information by going to the general Settings menu and selecting Location Services.  Note that disabling this option makes apps such as Google Maps unable to detect your location for the purpose of finding directions.

location data

Google Search Privacy Options

You can also adjust a myriad of other privacy settings within the Google Settings menu, found within the app list.  On Google Settings, select Search > Accounts & Privacy.  On this menu are a number of privacy options:

  • Commute Sharing lets your friends and family know when you’re heading home from work.    You can use the controls here to enable or disable this feature.
  • Google Location Settings allows you to control whether Google apps can access your phone’s location at any time the device is on.  Here you can set different controls for different accounts on the phone as well.
  • You can control whether Google retains your search history (note that this may disable some features).
  • You can control whether you get personal results in searches.
  • You can control whether Google can use your contact list.
  • You can control how much data is stored by your search application (typically Google Search).


google settings

Just because you haven’t paid for the newest phone doesn’t mean you can’t protect your privacy.  Newer phones (sometimes) have more accessible privacy controls and options, but even your old phones can be made more private and more secure with a little knowledge of their inner workings.  If you know of other privacy tips for old phones, share them in the comments!