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Keep Your Web Surfing History Private when Using Safari on the iPhone/iPad

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Jason R. Rich discusses ways to keep your web surfing history and activities private when using the Safari browser on your iOS mobile device. Meanwhile, you can reverse some of the information offered within this article to keep close tabs on the web surfing activities of your kids.
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Whether for work or personal reasons, there are times when you don't want other people to be able to see what you've been doing, especially related to your web surfing activities with the Safari browser on your iPhone or iPad.

With Safari now so closely integrated with iCloud, if you want to keep things private, you'll need to do much more than just erase the app's History folder.

Adjust Options in Settings to Keep Your Safari Web Surfing Private

When it comes to covering your web surfing tracks, before you start using Safari, you'll want to adjust a handful of the options available from within Settings. To do this, from the Home screen of your iPhone or iPad, tap the Settings option. Then scroll down within the main Settings menu and tap the iCloud option.

From the iCloud Control Panel menu within Settings (shown in Figure 1), turn off the virtual switches associated with Safari and Keychain. This will prevent your iPhone or iPad from remembering usernames, passwords, and credit card payment details related to the websites you visit.

It will also keep your device from syncing details pertaining to Safari's saved Bookmarks, Reading List, Favorites, and History folders with other computers and iOS mobile devices that are linked to the same Apple ID/iCloud account. It'll also disable Safari's iCloud Tabs feature.

Figure 1 The iCloud Control Panel is accessible from Settings

Using iCloud tabs, someone who is using your iMac (or MacBook), for example, could see exactly what websites you're visiting, in real time, from your iPhone or iPad—if the computer is logged in to your Apple ID/iCloud account.

Next, return to the main Settings menu on your mobile device. This time, tap the Safari option (see Figure 2). From the Safari submenu within Settings, scroll down to the Privacy & Security heading and turn on the virtual switch associated with the Do Not Track option. This will prevent Safari from creating and updating a History folder, and storing information about webpages you access or view in the future.

Figure 2 Access the Safari menu from within Settings to adjust the Do Not Track option and other web surfing-related settings

Tap the Block Cookies option, and from the Block Cookies submenu, select the Never option, which will prevent Safari from storing any preferences related to websites you visit.

Return to the Safari submenu and then tap the Smart Search Field option. Turn off the virtual switches that are associated with the Search Engine Suggestions and Preload Top Hits options.

After you do this, if you or anyone else uses the Search field within Safari on your mobile device, listings for past web searches and details pertaining to websites you've previously visited will no longer be displayed.

These steps will prevent most people who might pick up your iPhone or iPad and use it to surf the web from discovering what you've done online in the past.

However, additional steps that can help cover your tracks include taping on the Clear History and Clear Cookies and Data options, which are also displayed as part of the Safari submenu within Settings.

Tapping the Clear History option will delete everything that's currently stored within Safari's History folder; the Clear Cookies and Data option will delete all data currently saved within the Cookies folder of Safari, including information that's relevant to websites you've visited in the past.

Safari also has the ability to access (and potentially share) your current location as you're using an iPhone or iPad. Safari, along with many social media apps (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, etc.) has the capability to access Location Services-related data.

To prevent this for Safari and other apps, from the main Settings menu, tap the Privacy option. Then, tap the Location Services option from the Privacy submenu.

From the Location Services submenu, you can leave the virtual switch associated with the main Location Services option turned on, but then scroll down and turn off the virtual switch associated with Safari, as well as any specific social media apps installed on your device.

In the future, if you access a website that requires your current location, you will need to enter it manually.

Activate the Passcode Lock Feature to Keep Unauthorized People from Using Your iPhone or iPad

Yet another thing you can do to prevent unauthorized people from accessing your iPhone or iPad is to turn on its Passcode Lock feature. To do this, from the main Settings menu, tap the General option and then tap the Passcode Lock option (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 From the Passcode Lock submenu within Settings, tap the Turn Passcode On option

From the Passcode Lock submenu, tap the Turn Passcode On option, and when prompted, select and then re-enter a four-digit passcode of your choosing.

Once activated, this four-digit passcode will be required any time the iPhone or iPad is turned on or awakes from Sleep mode. If you're using an iPhone 5S, you have the option to activate the Touch ID sensor, so only recognized fingerprints (or the use of a four-digit passcode) will unlock the smartphone.

Instead of using a four-digit passcode, you can opt to use a longer alphanumeric password to keep people from accessing your iOS mobile device.

To use a password, from the General menu within Settings, tap the Passcode Lock option and then tap the Turn Passcode On option. Also from the Passcode Lock submenu, turn off the virtual switch that's associated with the Simple Passcode feature and make sure the Require Passcode option is set to Immediately.

Keep Tabs on what Your Kids Are Doing Online with iOS Mobile Devices

As a parent, it's a really good strategy to keep constant tabs on what your kids are doing with their Internet-enabled iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.

To do this, not only should you make sure that the privacy measures for Safari that have been outlined thus far are not used, you should also activate the Restrictions option on the mobile device your child is using.

Depending on how the Restrictions options are set up, they will prevent users (aside from you and anyone else with the override passcode) from altering the device's Settings, accessing certain types of online or purchasable content, installing or deleting apps, making in-app purchases, and using certain functionality built into the device.

To turn on Restrictions, launch Settings, and tap the General option. From the General menu within Settings, tap the Restrictions option. Located near the top of the Restrictions submenu is the Enable/Disable Restrictions option (see Figure 4). Tap it to turn on the master switch for this feature. You will be promoted to create and enter a four-digit passcode.

Figure 4 You can set up a variety of different restrictions from within Settings to prevent others from accessing certain apps, content, or data when they use your device

It is absolutely essential that you remember this passcode, or else you could wind up locking yourself, as well as your kids, out of the device or prevent various features and functions from being used in the future.

Also, make sure that your kids don't discover this code. You might want to change the Restrictions passcode at random times in the future.

Once activated, you can decide specifically which features and functions someone other than you can access from the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch by turning on or off the virtual switches associated with Safari, Camera, FaceTime, iTunes Store, iBooks Store, Installing Apps, Deleting Apps, In-App Purchases, Siri, and AirDrop.

Scroll down within the Restrictions submenu to control the content someone will have access to, based on age appropriateness, content ratings related to Music & Podcasts, Movies, TV Shows, Books, Apps, Siri, and Websites.

Continue scrolling down to add more restrictions related to specific features and apps that come bundled with iOS 7, such as Location Services, Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, and Photos.

The Restrictions submenu screen allows you to also prevent someone from accessing options, features, functions, and certain apps as they're using the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, including Game Center-related features that are relevant, particularly if multiplayer games will be used.

If your children can access their email account, for example, from their mobile device, as the parent, be sure to check all the individual accounts listed within the Mail, Contacts, and Calendars submenu within Settings to make sure that your child has not secretly created one or more accounts that you don't know about.

One thing you can do to prevent this is to adjust the options found under the Accounts option (accessible from the Restrictions submenu within Settings). However, you'll also want to manually check all their accounts associated with Facebook, Twitter, and any other social networking services and apps being used.

Keep in mind that your child is probably rather technology savvy, so either on their own, or with the help of their friends, they may try to devise ways to keep their online activities a secret. For example, instead of using the Gmail or Mail app to manage a free and secretly created Gmail email account, they might access that account from Safari (by accessing www.gmail.com).

By checking your child's Safari History folder, you'll be able to see exactly which websites have been accessed (see Figure 5). Also, for the security of your child, turn off Location Services functionality related to Safari, Mail, and all social networking apps to prevent other people from tracking their whereabouts based online activities.

Figure 5 Tap the Bookmarks icon to access the Safari History folder while surfing the web

To track the whereabouts of your children based on the location of their turned-on iPhone or iPad (or iPod touch with Wi-Fi access), turn on the Find My feature. To do this, launch Settings; tap the iCloud option; and from the iCloud Control Panel, turn on the virtual switch that's associated with the Find My feature. Then turn on the Restrictions that prevent your child from turning off this feature.

Once the Find My feature is turned on, by accessing www.icloud.com, or using the Find My iPhone app (from your own device), you can sign in to the service using your child's Apple ID and Password and determine the location of the device they're using in real time, provided that it's turned on and has Internet access (via a cellular or Wi-Fi Internet connection).

Final Thoughts...

Whether you want to maintain your own privacy when using your iPhone or iPad, or need to track what your kids are doing on their devices, understanding how to customize the appropriate options within Settings will prove highly beneficial.

The majority of the features and options discussed need to be set only once, and will work indefinitely until a setting or option is manually changed.

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