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How to limit adult content and block private browsing in Safari on iPhone and iPad

Apple offers various parental control features for iPhone and iPad with the Restrictions settings. You can block access to some system apps altogether, like making it impossible to launch Safari, but there are also more fine-grained controls to restrict younger users from freely surfing the web.

The iPhone and iPad include a website content filter that can automatically detect explicit and adult content not suitable for younger viewers and prevent access to those pages. You can also block private browsing completely and prevent browsing history from being deleted, disabling the ability to activate the incognito feature. Full how-to instructions after the jump …

Apple has come under pressure from investors recently to improve its iOS parental control features. Apple has committed to adding new features in future iOS software updates, and highlighted how it is already possible to limit web browsing with the existing Restrictions functionality.

With Restrictions, you can set up a whitelist to disable web browsing to any arbitrary site, apart from a whitelist of domains that you choose. Other than removing the Safari app completely, this is the most intrusive approach and will cutoff access to all websites unless explicitly allowed. This may be suitable for cases where iOS device usage is well supervised.

The more balanced approach is to use the ‘Limit Adult Content’ option. This activates an algorithmic content filter on page loads that attempts to detect presence of explicit and adult material and will block access to the webpage if it finds anything. Most websites will be allowed through the filter and load as normal. You can also whitelist and blacklist additional domains as you see fit.

To keep tabs on what your child is doing, activating any of the website filtering options also removes the ability to use Private Browsing. The button to enable it simply disappears when website restrictions are active. This means browsing history and tabs are always saved between sessions. As an added measure, browsed pages cannot be removed by the user and the ‘clear all’ button is greyed out and disabled.

(Note that this disables Private Browsing in Safari only – incognito mode in Google Chrome or other third-party web browsers is not affected by this setting.)

How to block Private Browsing and limit adult content on iPhone and iPad Safari

To block access to private browsing and enable a content filter to stop kids from loading adult websites, go to the child’s iOS device and open Settings.

Tap on General, and then tap Restrictions.

If you haven’t set up Restrictions features on the iPhone or iPad before, it will ask you to create a passcode.

This is a four-digit code (separate from the passcode used to unlock the device) that will be asked for whenever Restrictions are changed in the future. This is what prevents the young ones from disabling the filter without asking an adult first.

With Restrictions activated, scroll down to the Websites row and tap it. This is where you can choose to whitelist, blacklist and enable the adult content filter.

By default, the preference is set to ‘All Websites’. Tap ‘Specific Websites Only’ to only allow content from the list of domains that appears. The preset list includes content from Apple, CBeebies, Discovery Kids, Disney and similar sites. You can remove any of these by swiping or add a new allowed domain by pressing ‘Add a Website’ at the bottom.

The less-constrained option is the middle table cell, labelled ‘Limit Adult Content’. When enabled, the iPhone uses algorithms and smart filters to automatically prevent pages from loading if the device detects adult content.

Obviously, all software like this is not foolproof and Apple cannot guarantee that it will catch everything. If you find sites that you want to ban, you can extend the blacklist and whitelist manually by adding domains to the ‘Never Allow’ and ‘Always Allow’ settings.

If a user visits a restricted page, Safari will show a screen like the screenshot above. It includes a shortcut link to allow access to the current page. Tapping on this will ask for the Restrictions password before adding the URL to the whitelist.

If desired, you can ask to see your child’s browsing history and review what websites they have been using as clearing history is disabled automatically whilst website filters are active. Unfortunately, it is not currently possible to block Private Browsing but allow users to freely browse web pages. Some form of content block must be in use for Private Browsing and History deletion to be blocked.

To disable website filters and re-enable the ability to use Private Browsing and clear history, go back into Settings and open Restrictions. Then, go to the Websites pane and switch back to the ‘All Websites’ unrestricted mode. You can turn off all restrictions using the Disable Restrictions button at the top of the view.


There is definitely a debate to be had about how much parents should intervene in their child’s lives. However, I think most people would agree it is up to the discretion of the individual families to decide how heavy-handed to be regarding online security of their kids. As such, it is good to be aware of what iOS can offer in this department.

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