‘Discoverable by Others’ and other iPhone privacy settings you should lock down right now

Only share what you want to share.
the back of an iphone with the camera showing

You're in charge of your iPhone privacy. Abhijeet Barak/Unsplash

You might have seen a recent flurry of social media posts questioning Apple’s privacy policies after a “Discoverable by Others” setting was noticed in the new Journal app—a setting that’s turned on by default, even if you don’t use the app itself.

This setting doesn’t actually do what you might think it does, based on its name alone. We’ll explain how the discovery feature works, and why you might want to switch it off—or leave it turned on.

It’s important to be aware of the various security and privacy settings on the iPhone: These are issues Apple takes seriously, but you still need to be aware of what you’re sharing, and with whom. As well as the Journal app option, we’ll cover a couple of other key iPhone privacy settings, both turned on by default, that you might want to review.

Discovery in the Journal app

screenshot of iphone with privacy settings open for Journal app. "discoverable by others' is toggled on
The Discoverable by Others setting has attracted some controversy. Screenshot: Apple

First is the Journal app, added with iOS 17.2. It’s a place where you can jot down thoughts and memories, collect pictures, and record trips—and, importantly for our purposes here, you can opt in to have the app prompt you with suggestions. If you’ve been to the beach, for example, Journal might suggest you write about it.

These suggestions are kept on your device, so Apple doesn’t see them, and you can turn them on or off by heading to Privacy & Security and then Journaling Suggestions in iOS Settings. You’ll see these suggestions are split up into categories, including Contacts and Photos, so you can keep some of them on while turning others off.

The toggle switch that has attracted a few headlines is Discoverable by Others, which is on by default and separate from journal suggestions. This doesn’t mean other people can see your journal, but it does mean that other users of the Journal app might get prompts to write about time they spent with you, if they have journal suggestions turned on.

You won’t be specifically named—the other person will only see a prompt like “dinner with friends” if a lot of other iPhones turn up in the evening, for instance. And it doesn’t mean your location is being tracked or stored anywhere. From Apple’s point of view, it’s to help other people who want journal suggestions, even if you’re not even using the app yourself—but you can of course disable it if you like.

Significant Locations on your iPhone

screenshot of iphone with 'significant locations' toggled on
Your iPhone will collect significant locations, if you want it to. Screenshot: Apple

When it comes to more iOS features that are enabled by default and that you might want to switch off if you’re privacy conscious, there’s another called Significant Locations. If location services are enabled on your iPhone (and they will be, if you use maps and other apps that need to pinpoint your position), then these significant locations will be logged too—unless you turn them off.

Apple says these significant locations “keep track of places you have recently been, as well as how often and when you visited them”. The data is synced between your Apple devices using iCloud, but it’s end-to-end encrypted: Apple can’t see what these locations are, and nor can anyone else (unless they physically get access to your unlocked iPhone).

They’re tracked “in order to provide useful location-related information in Maps, Calendar, Photos and more”. Two examples of their use given by Apple are these locations appearing higher up when you’re searching for directions in Apple Maps, and the Photos app tapping into this information when compiling slideshows for Memories (so your ‘favorite’ places would show up more often).

It’s up to you whether or not you think this collection of your location data is reasonable and secure. From iOS Settings, tap Privacy & Security, Location Services, System Services, and then Significant Locations to see recently logged locations. You can clear all logged locations to date, as well as turn off the feature completely.

Turn off personalized ads

screenshot of iphone with personalized ads toggled on
iOS can make your ads less personalized. Screenshot: Apple

Apple prides itself on offering a more private and secure user experience than its competitors, but it will still show you personalized ads by default—something Google does as well. However, Apple keeps its advertising networks more locked down than Google in terms of involving third-party marketers and tracking ads across multiple devices.

Some of the data Apple might use to build up your profile includes the apps you download and the services you subscribe to, the apps you frequently open, and the topics you look at on Apple News. This data is then used to put you in a ‘segment’ with thousands of other users, and then those segments can be targeted by advertisers.

In some ways, personalized ads are a win-win: Advertisers reach people who are actually interested in their products, and consumers get adverts that are actually relevant. You don’t necessarily want to see a row of links for baby food products if you don’t have a baby, for example. However, it’s perfectly understandable if you don’t want your iPhone activities tracked in this way.

You can read more about Apple’s advertising policies to help you make up your mind. If you want to turn off personalized advertising, head to iOS Settings, then choose Privacy & Security and tap Apple Advertising to find the Personalized Ads toggle switch. Note that changing this setting won’t change how many ads you see, only whether or not they’re personalized.