‘The devil is in the defaults’: Change these standard device settings to keep more of your data private

Just about all tech platforms gather data from their customers, often selling it to third parties. You can control some of what’s shared about you by changing a few privacy settings.

By Alexandra Hart & Shelly BrisbinJuly 29, 2022 1:47 pm,

When you get a shiny new phone or computer, adjusting default privacy settings probably isn’t top of mind. But perhaps it should be.

Default settings on devices and in apps can make it easier for them to do what they’re designed to do, or to collect info about software bugs. But they also cause us to inadvertently share more data about ourselves than we might like. The challenge is knowing which settings to change and how to change them without messing something else up.

Brian Chen, the lead consumer technology writer for The New York Times, recently wrote a primer on how to protect yourself by using privacy settings on your phone, computer or smart speaker. Chen told Texas Standard that default device settings allow companies to gather data about your activities, your physical location and even where you go online. That data is often shared with third parties who use it to serve ads to you.

Lock down iPhone privacy settings

Turn off app tracking and personalized ads.

Several iPhone defaults allow app makers and the companies they partner with to collect data about how you use your phone, even when working outside the app. Apple’s own ads can be personalized, based on the data the phone collects as you use it. Turning off personalized ads won’t stop the ads, but it will keep the phone from keeping such close tabs on you.2 iphone screens with privacy settings circled

  1. Tap the Privacy item. You may need to scroll down to find it.
  2. Tap the Tracking item.
  3. Turn off the Allow Apps to Request to Track toggle.
  4. Tap the arrow in the upper-left corner of the screen, labeled Privacy, to move up a page in Settings.
  5. Now scroll down to the Apple Advertising item and tap it.
  6. Turn the Personalized Ads toggle off.

Limit the amount of diagnostic information you provide to Apple, as well as the mount of location tracking done by Apple Maps. The Maps app needs to know your location in order to provide turn-by-turn directions. But you don’t need to share information about your travel history with Apple. The company uses this information to improve Maps’ accuracy, but you can opt not to provide it.

  1. In the Privacy area of the Settings app, select Location Services. It’s the first item on the list.
  2. Scroll below the alphabetical listing of apps and choose System Services.
  3. Scroll to the Product Improvement area of the page, and turn off iPhone Analytics, Routing & Traffic and Improve Maps.

Protect the privacy for your Android phone and Google account

Privacy settings for Android phones are hosted in your Google account. You can adjust them on the phone or on the Google Web site.

Change privacy settings for Android and your account to control how much information Google stores about your activity within apps and on the Web, as well as your location.

  1. Go to myactivity.google.com and log into the account you use with your Android phone.
  2. Open Web & App Activity.
  3. Either turn off the collection of search activity completely, or choose a short time period, such as 90 days, to store the search activity. If you turn the setting off entirely, Google won’t be able to refer to any of your recent search history.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for Location Activity and YouTube History, if you wish.

Privacy issues with Meta and Amazon

Social platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and Amazon’s line of smart speakers and home security products, also provide options to enhance your privacy by adjusting default settings. Read more about these options in Brian Chen’s New York Times story.

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