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Security & privacy

Yes, your data is for sale – Here’s what you can do to stop it

No matter how careful you are, your privacy is always at risk when you go online. You can mitigate this by avoiding social media and certain apps and websites.

We understand that it’s not always easy to avoid the world’s most popular sites and apps. You can still enjoy them as long as you take some precautions. Tap or click here to learn how to check up on your privacy settings with Facebook and Google.

Apple recently released an ad that puts into stark (and creepy) reality how much of our info is bought and sold. The short video makes a show of it, but it’s an accurate metaphor for what really goes on with your data.

Meet Ellie

The ad star is Ellie, who’s in a record store browsing vinyl. She notices a set of big wooden doors with a display reading, “Ellie’s Data Auction.”

An auction is taking place behind those doors. The goods for sale consist of Ellie’s private data, including her emails, drugstore purchases, location data, contacts, recent transactions, browsing history and text messages. Each one is sold to the highest bidder.

“It’s not creepy, it’s commerce!” the auctioneer jeers.

When the last lot is brought onstage, Ellie takes out her iPhone and taps a button labeled “Ask App Not to Track.” The bidders disappear one by one in a puff of smoke. Ellie then taps “Protect Mail activity,” and the auctioneer is gone.

What you can do about it

While it’s a fun watch, Apple’s video should be taken seriously. Your data is always at risk of being collected and sold. Let’s look at how you can prevent this from happening using your iPhone’s built-in tools.

Protect your email

With iOS 15, Apple introduced Mail Privacy Protection, which added tracking blockers that keep senders from knowing if you opened an email. The Mail app and Safari hide your IP address to keep your location private. Here’s how to make sure it’s enabled:

  • Go to Settings > Mail > Privacy Protection.
  • Slide the toggle next to Protect Mail Activity to the right to enable it.

You can also turn on Hide My Email, which lets you use a temporary email to sign up for new accounts when you sign in with Apple:

  • Go to Settings and tap [your name] > iCloud.
  • Tap Hide My Email to set up your addresses.

Hide your purchases

When you buy something online, your transaction history and cookies can be tracked to serve you with ads and deals. A virtual private network (VPN) makes your outgoing traffic anonymous and encrypts your connection so your activity can’t be tracked. Keep on reading for more information on VPNs.

Hide your location

Apps can track your location and get an idea of your daily routines, shopping habits and more. Fortunately, you can limit location tracking for all your apps or select ones on your iPhone. Here’s how:

  • Go to SettingsPrivacy & SecurityLocation Services.
  • Slide the toggle next to Location Services to the left to disable it.
  • You can also scroll down the list and adjust location tracking for individual apps.

RELATED: Twitter shares your location when you tweet – Take this step now

Limit access to your contacts

Does that new game you downloaded have any reason to know who’s on your contact list? No. Here’s how to stop apps from accessing your contacts:

  • Go to Settings > Privacy & Security > Contacts and slide the toggle next to any apps you don’t want accessing your contacts to the left.

Hide your browsing history

Safari has built-in privacy to hide your search history and block cookies:

  • Go to Settings > Safari and scroll down to Privacy & Security.
  • Slide the toggle next to Prevent Cross-Site Tracking to the right to limit third-party cookies and data.
  • Tap Hide IP address and then From Trackers.
  • Slide the toggle next to Block All Cookies to the right to prevent websites from adding cookies to your iPhone.
  • Slide the toggle next to Fraudulent Website Warning to the right to get a warning if you visit a suspected phishing site.
  • Slide the toggle next to Privacy Preserving Ad Measurement to the right to keep websites from viewing your data and showing you targeted ads.

iCloud Private Relay encrypts the traffic leaving your iPhone, preventing websites from seeing your IP address and location while also stopping network providers from collecting your browsing activity. It works similarly to a VPN. Here’s how to turn this feature on:

  • Go to Settings > [your name] > iCloud > Private Relay and toggle on the switch.

RELATED: Take a minute to adjust these important Android privacy settings

Your iMessages are encrypted by default

Your iPhone uses end-to-end encryption to protect your iMessage and FaceTime conversations across all your devices. You can also use messaging apps such as WhatsApp, which uses end-to-end encryption.

Stop apps from tracking you

Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) lets iPhone and iPad users specify which apps can track their online behavior:

  • If you see a request to track your activity, you can tap Allow or Ask App Not to Track.
  • Go to Settings > Privacy & Security > Tracking, and check that Allow Apps to Request to Track is switched off. This will automatically deny any new app tracking requests.

Get a VPN for overall protection

A VPN provides a layer of protection between your devices and the internet. It hides your IP address and location and encrypts your data after leaving your device.

Whether it’s a computer, smartphone or tablet, it connects to the internet through an internet service provider. Those servers send you information and they pick up information about you, your IP address, location, device and more.

A VPN blocks the two-way exchange of information. The IP address and location data come from the VPN host’s server, so the servers on the other end learn nothing about you or your data. Hackers, scammers and thieves won’t be able to get to you, your data, your travels or your money.

We recommend our sponsor, ExpressVPN. Get the only VPN service that Kim uses on all your digital devices today. Get three months free when you sign up for one year at

You may also like: Chrome users, make this change now to limit ad tracking

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