There is a catchy saying that offers a valuable lesson about our personal technology: The devil is in the default settings.
It refers to the factory systems that tech companies embed deep into the devices, apps, and websites we use. Generally, this system will share data about our activities and location. Generally this data collection can be opted out of, but companies design menus and buttons to be hard to notice, perhaps in the hope that they won’t change them immediately.
Generally, Apple, Google, Amazon, Meta, and Microsoft want to leave behind some factory settings to train their algorithms, detect software flaws, and make their products easier to use. However, sharing unnecessary data is not always in our best interest.
In 2018, consider how many whistleblowers have confessed to listening to Apple Siri records and Amazon Alexa activation. Roe v. The recent reversal of Wade’s ruling underscores the many ways women can be monitored through their personal technology as they seek options to end a pregnancy.
So with every technology product we use, it’s important to 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 I and other tech writers change all the time.
Apple cell phones
On iPhones, users can change how their app usage and location data is shared by opening the Settings app and entering the Privacy menu. (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 disable Allow request tracking. It 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 send you targeted ads in its 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 its products.
— To prevent the device from sharing geolocation data with Apple, select Location Services, tap System Services, and turn off iPhone Analytics and Route & Traffic 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 have a control panel website to change data management. myactivity.google.com.
– Select Auto Delete to delete more than three months of activity for all three activities (Internet and app activity, location history, and YouTube history). This way, instead of creating a permanent record for each search, Google deletes records older than ninety days. In the short term, you can still make useful recommendations based on recent searches.
— An additional tip for Android phones by Rine Hager, author of the Android Police tech blog: Newer versions of Android offer the ability for apps to share their approximate location rather than their exact location. For many applications, such as weather software, sharing rough data should be sufficient, and geolocation data should be shared exclusively with software that requires it to function properly, such as mapping applications.
The most important meta settings can be accessed through the Privacy Checker tool in the Settings menu. Here are some important changes to avoid employee and marketer interference:
— For “Who can see what you share,” select “Only me” for those who have access to your friends list and the pages you follow, and “Friends” for those who can see your birthday.
— For “How people find you on Facebook”, select “Only me” for people who can find you by email or phone number.
— Turn off options for “Your Facebook Advertising Preferences”, Relationship Status, Employment, Position and Education. This way, marketers cannot send targeted ads based on this information.
Windows from Microsoft
Windows PCs come factory-installed with a number of data-sharing settings that help Microsoft, advertisers, and websites learn more about us. By opening the Settings menu and clicking Privacy & Security, you’ll find switches to disable those settings.
However, the bad 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 choose No Sound to silence the many annoying sounds that Windows makes when something goes wrong.
Amazon Platform and Devices
Amazon offers some control over how information is shared through its website and products like Alexa and Nest cameras. There are two settings I highly recommend turning off:
– Amazon last year introduced Amazon Sidewalk, a program that lets new Amazon products automatically share their Internet connection with other nearby devices. Critics say the corridor could open the door for malicious actors to access people’s data. To disable it on the Echo smart speaker, open the Amazon Alexa app and tap More at the bottom right of the screen. Within Settings, tap Account Settings, choose Amazon Walkthrough, and toggle the switch to the Off position.
For the Ring Camera, in the Ring app, tap the three-lines icon in the top left, tap Control Center, then tap Amazon Sidewalk and slide the switch to the off position.
— On Amazon’s website, some shopping lists (such as items saved in wishlists) are shared with the public by default, which may reveal information. Go to your lists page and make each shopping list unique.
© The New York Times 2022