Targeted ads stalking you on your iPhone? Here's how to limit them

Apple shows interest-based ads in several of its own apps, but you can limit that with just a few taps.

Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
3 min read

Apple has built its reputation on helping you protect your privacy, and that includes its own ad network. 

Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

Earlier this week, Facebook warned users and its business partners that changes in Apple 's next version of iOS will impact on its Audience Network advertising platform. When iOS 14 is released this fall, iPhone users will have to opt in to targeted advertising. It's not a stretch to assume that users aren't going to eagerly opt in and allow Facebook , or any advertiser for that matter, to track their internet usage when given a choice.

But what about limiting ad tracking on your iPhone right now, even before iOS 14 is available? It's possible, but it's only possible in Apple's own ad network.

Below I'll walk you through how to limit ad tracking, what exactly that means, and offer some of my own anecdotal experience after testing it myself.

Why limit ad tracking?


Ads in the App Store can get specific if you leave ad tracking on. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

The quick and easy answer: privacy . Ad tracking is a complicated topic, full of nuance and privacy implications as companies have figured out ways to track users' online activity across multiple websites and devices.

An easy way to see ad tracking in action is to search for a product on Google or Amazon , wait a few minutes, then open the Facebook app on your phone and start scrolling through your feed. Odds are, you're going to see ads for that product category. It's scary how fast advertisers are able to target your account, all because you searched for something on a totally unrelated website.

By limiting or opting out of ad tracking, you can prevent advertisers from following you around the internet.

Until iOS 14 makes its official debut this fall, any changes you make to ad tracking on your iPhone or iPad will only impact Apple's advertising network, which is used to show ads in the App Store, Apple News and the Stocks app.


Nobody wants to be tracked. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Limit ad tracking on your iPhone or iPad

To turn on the Limit Ad Tracking feature on your iPhone or iPad, open the Settings app and tap on Privacy then scroll to the bottom of the page and select Advertising. There you'll find the option to Limit Ad Tracking, which should be off by default. Slide the switch to the On position, then tap on the button labeled Reset Advertising Identifier.

By resetting your advertising ID, any information linked to you and your devices will be disassociated from you, meaning Apple won't continue to use that information to tailor the ads it shows to you. You won't lose out on any functionality by resetting the ID.  

Effectively, you'll be starting with a clean advertising profile. Combine that with limiting ad tracking, and you should begin to see ads that don't appeal to you -- and that's exactly the point. 

You can take it one step further by turning off location-based Apple ads by going to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services and turning off Location-Based Apple Ads.

After making the change

Even though Apple's ad platform is limited to just a few apps, I've noticed a difference when scrolling through the App Store. Before resetting my ID and limiting ad tracking, I'd see ads for different apps, like a PDF editor, several days after searching for apps that let me digitally sign a PDF.

Now my ads are more generic, but still relevant. For example, instead of the ad highlighting an app like Adobe Fill & Sign, I see an ad for a scanner app.

I don't use the Apple News or Stocks app, so I can't speak to how much of an impact ad tracking has had on the experience inside either of those apps. But I'd assume it's similar to the App Store, with more generalized ads.

It's a small change, but one that will be even more dramatic once iOS 14 is released, likely in September.

If you want to take steps to limit ad tracking in your browser, we have a guide that walks you through doing just that. In addition to changes to ad tracking, Apple has also added a handful of privacy-focused features in iOS 14 that will help keep everything from your location to your photo library totally private. If you want to check out the new iOS 14 features, you can sign up for the public beta right now, but it's probably best you wait until it's officially released.