There is a catchy aphorism that offers a valuable lesson about our personal technology: Devil at default settings.
This proverb refers to the factory settings that tech companies configure deep inside the devices, apps, and websites we use. Usually, this setting causes data about our activities and our location to be shared. Normally we could opt out of this data collection, but companies design hard-to-notice menus and buttons, probably hoping we won’t change them right away.
generally, Apple, Google, Amazon, Meta, and Microsoft want us to leave some factory settings running for the purpose of training their algorithms and detecting software flaws, making it easier for us to use their products. However, sharing unnecessary data is not always in our best interest.
Consider how many whistleblowers in 2018 admitted listening to Apple Siri recordings and Amazon Alexa activities that unintentionally recorded couples having sex. The recent overturning of the ruling in Roe v. Wade also underscores the many ways women can be tracked through their personal technology when looking for options to terminate a pregnancy.
So with every tech product we use, it’s important that we take the time to carefully examine the various menus, buttons, and switches to minimize the data we share. Here’s a simple guide to many of the default settings that other tech writers and I always tweak.
Apple mobile phones
On iPhones, users can open the Settings app and enter the Privacy menu to change how data about app usage and location is shared. (Technically, Apple asks people if they want to accept some of these settings when they activate a new iPhone, but these steps can easily be skipped. These tips will disable data sharing.)
– Select Tracking and turn off Allow Order Tracking. This tells all apps not to share data with third parties for marketing purposes.
Select Apple ads and turn off personalized ads so that Apple can’t use information about you to send you targeted ads in the App Store, Apple News, and Stock.
Select Analytics and turn off Share iPhone Analytics to prevent your phone from sending device data to Apple to improve their products.
Select Location Services, tap System Services, and turn off iPhone, route, and traffic analytics to prevent the device from sharing geolocation data with Apple to improve Apple Maps.
Google products, which include Android phones and web services such as Google Search, YouTube, and Google Maps, are linked to Google accounts, and the dashboard for editing data management is on the myactivity website.
For all three activities (web and app activity, location history, and YouTube history), choose auto-delete to delete activity older than three months. This way, instead of creating a permanent history of each search, Google scans entries that are more than ninety days old. In the short term, you can still make helpful recommendations based on your recent searches.
Bonus tip for Android phones from Ryne Hager, editor at Android Police tech blog: Newer versions of Android give people the ability to share an approximate location rather than their exact location through apps. For many applications, such as weather programs, sharing approximate data should be sufficient, and geolocation data should be shared exclusively with programs that need it to function properly, such as map applications.
The most important Meta settings can be accessed through the Privacy Checker tool under the Settings menu. Here are some important modifications to prevent interference from employees and marketers:
For ‘Who can see what you share’, select ‘Only me’ for people who have access to your friends list and Pages you follow, and select ‘Friends’ for who can see your birthday.
For “How can people find you on Facebook”, choose “Only Me” for people who can search for you by email or phone number.
For your “Facebook advertising preferences”, turn off the Relationship, Employment, Job, and Education status options. This way, marketers cannot send targeted ads based on this information.
Windows from Microsoft
Windows PCs come with a set of data-sharing settings turned on at the factory that help Microsoft, advertisers, and websites learn more about us. The switches to turning off these settings can be found by opening the Settings menu, clicking Privacy and Security, and then General.
However, the worst default setting in Windows has nothing to do with privacy. When Kimber Streams, who edits at Wirecutter, tests new laptops, one of her first steps is to open the sound menu and select No Sounds to silence the many annoying beats that play when something goes wrong in Windows.
Amazon website and devices
Amazon provides some control over how information is shared through its website and products such as Alexa and Nest cameras. There are two settings that I highly recommend turning off:
Last year, Amazon launched Amazon Sidewalk, a program that makes newer Amazon products automatically share their Internet connection with other nearby devices. Critics say Sidewalk could open doors for bad guys to gain access to people’s data. To disable it on your Echo smart speaker, open the Amazon Alexa app and tap More at the bottom right of the screen. Under Settings, tap Account Settings, choose Amazon Sidewalk, and toggle the switch to the off position.
For the Ring camera, in the Ring app, tap the icon with the three lines in the top left, tap Control Center, tap Amazon Sidewalk, and slide the switch to the off position.
On Amazon, some shopping lists (such as items saved to your Wishlist) are shared with the public by default, which may reveal information. Visit your lists page and set each shopping list to privacy.
© New York Times 2022