There is a catchy saying floating around with a valuable lesson about our personal technology: The devil defaults.
This phrase refers to the default settings that tech companies place deep into the devices, apps, and websites we use. These settings often allow us to share data about our activities and location. Usually we can disable this data collection, but companies make menus and buttons harder to spot, possibly hoping we don’t change them right away.
Apple, Google, Amazon, Meta and Microsoft often want us to leave some default settings on to train their so called algorithms and catch bugs, which makes it easier for us to use their products. However, unnecessary data sharing is not always in our interest.
That’s why in every technological product we use, it’s important that we take the time to examine the many menus, buttons, and switches to reduce the data we share. Here is a simplified guide to many of the default settings that I and other tech writers change all the time.
On iPhones, users can open the settings app and enter the privacy menu to change it. how they share data about app usage and location. (Apple technically asks people to select some of these settings when they activate a new iPhone, but these steps are easily overlooked. These tips disable data sharing.)
Select Monitoring and disable Allow Applications to Request Monitoring. This tells all apps not to share data with third parties for marketing purposes.
Select Apple Advertising and turn off Personalized Ads so that Apple doesn’t use information about you to serve targeted ads on the App Store, Apple News, and Stocks.
To prevent iPhone from sending device data to Apple to improve its products, select Insights & Improvements and turn off Share iPhone Insights.
Select Location Services, tap System Services and turn off iPhone Analytics and Routing and Traffic to prevent the device from sharing geodata with Apple to improve Apple Maps.
Android phones and Google products including web services like Google search, YouTube and Google Maps are linked to Google accounts and control panel is on the website to change data management. myactivity.google.com.
Set auto-delete to delete activity older than three months for all three categories (Web & App Activity, Location History, and YouTube History). This way, Google cleans up entries older than 90 days instead of creating a permanent record of each search. In the near term, it may continue to 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 an approximate location with apps rather than their exact location. For many applications, such as weather software, the route should be to share approximate data, and precise geographic data should only be shared with software that needs to work properly, such as map applications.
Meta’s most important settings can be found here: privacy control tool inside the settings menu. These are some important tweaks to prevent snooping by employers and marketers:
In the “Who can see what you post” section, select “Only me” for people who have access to your friends list and pages you follow, and “Friends” for people who can see your birthday.
In the “How people can find you on Facebook” section, select “Only me” for people who can call you via email or phone number.
Turn off relationship status, employer, job title, and education keys for your “ad preferences on Facebook.” This way, marketers cannot serve targeted ads based on this information.
Amazon’s Website and Devices
Amazon offers some control over how information is shared through its website and products like Alexa and Ring cameras. There are two settings that I highly recommend turning off:
Amazon launched last year Amazon Sidewalk, a program that automatically shares newer Amazon products with internet connections with other nearby devices. Critics say Sidewalk could open doors for bad actors to access people’s data.
To disable it for an Echo speaker, open the Amazon Alexa app and tap More at the bottom right of the screen. Tap on Account Settings inside Settings, select Amazon Sidewalk, and turn Sidewalk off.
For the Ring camera, tap the three-line icon in the top left in the Ring app, then tap Control Center. Tap Amazon Pavement and slide the switch to the off position.
On Amazon’s website, some shopping lists (such as items saved on a wishlist) are shared with the public by default, which can be informative. visit Your lists page and set each shopping list to private.
Windows PCs come with a set of data sharing settings that are turned on by default to help Microsoft, advertisers and websites learn more about us. The switches used to turn these settings off can be found by opening the settings menu and clicking Privacy & security and then General.
Still, the worst default setting in Windows may have nothing to do with privacy. When Kimber Streams, a Wirecutter editor, tests new laptops, one of her first steps is to open the sound menu and choose No Sound to silence the many annoying bells that go off when something goes wrong with Windows.
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