There is a catchy saying that has a valuable lesson about our personal technology: Satan is unselfish.
This word refers to default settings that tech companies place on the devices, apps, and websites we use. These settings usually force us to share information about our activities and location. We can usually opt out of this data collection, but companies probably make menus and buttons hard to see in the hope that we won’t change them right away.
Apple, Google, Amazon, Meta, and Microsoft generally want us to leave some default settings to train their algorithms and catch bugs, making it easier for us to use their products. But unnecessary information exchange is not always in our favor.
So, it’s important to take the time to review the many menus, buttons, and switches to stop the information we share in every tech product we use. Here’s a simplified guide to many of the default settings that I and other tech writers change all the time.
With iPhones, users can open the settings app and access the privacy menu to make changes how they share information about their use of the application and location. (Apple technically asks people to opt-in to some of these settings when activating a new iPhone, but these steps can easily be skipped. These tips will stop data sharing.)
Select Tracking and uncheck Allow Apps to Request Tracking. This tells all apps not to share data with third parties for marketing purposes.
Select Apple Advertising and turn off Personalized Ads so Apple can’t use information about you to serve targeted ads in its App Store, Apple News, and Stocks.
Choose Analytics & Improvements and turn off Share iPhone Analytics to prevent iPhone from sending device data to Apple to improve its products.
Select Location Services, tap System Services, and turn off iPhone Analytics and Routing & Traffic to prevent the device from sharing geographic information with Apple to improve Apple Maps.
Google products, including Android phones and web services such as Google search, YouTube and Google Maps, are linked to Google accounts, and the control panel for data management is on the website. myactivity.google.com.
For all three categories – Web & App Activity, Location History, and YouTube History – set the automatic deletion feature to delete activity older than three months. So instead of creating a permanent record of every search, Google purges entries older than 90 days. In the near future, it may still provide useful recommendations based on recent searches.
A bonus tip for Android phones comes from Ryne Hager, editor of the tech blog “Android Police”: Newer versions of Android offer people the ability to share their approximate location with apps, rather than their exact location. For many applications, such as weather software, sharing rough data should be the way to go, and accurate geographic information should only be shared with software that needs it to function properly, such as map applications.
Meta’s most important settings can be accessed via privacy check tool in the settings menu. Here are some important changes to avoid snooping by employers and marketers:
For “Who can see what you share,” choose “Only me” for people who have access to your friends list and pages you follow, and “Friends” for people who can see your birthday.
Under “How people can find you on Facebook,” select “Only me” for people who can search for you by email or phone number.
Turn off the switches for contact status, employer, job title, and education for “Your Facebook advertising options.” This way, marketers cannot serve targeted ads based on this information.
Amazon Website and Devices
Amazon offers control over how information is shared through its website and products like Alexa and Ring cameras. There are two settings I recommend turning off:
Amazon launched last year Amazon Pavement, a program that automatically enables newer Amazon products to share internet connections with other nearby devices. Critics say Sidewalk could open doors for bad actors to gain access to people’s data.
To turn it off for an Echo speaker, open the Amazon Alexa app and tap More at the bottom right of the screen. In Settings, click Account Settings, select Amazon Pavement, and turn off Pavement.
For the ring camera, in the Ring app, tap the three-line icon at the top left, then tap Control Center. Tap on Amazon Pavement and slide the switch to off.
Some shopping lists on the Amazon website, such as wish-list items, are shared with the public, which may reveal information. visit Your lists page and make each shopping list private.
Windows computers come with a number of data sharing settings enabled by default to help Microsoft, advertisers and websites learn more about us. The keys to turning off these settings can be found by opening the settings menu, clicking Privacy & security, and then General.
However, the worst default setting in Windows may have nothing to do with privacy. Whenever Wirecutter editor Kimber Streams tests new laptops, one of the first things they do is open the sound menu and select Mute to turn off the many annoying chimes that ring whenever Windows crashes.
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