The default tech settings you should turn off right away

(Glenn Harvey/The New York Times)

There is a catchy saying going around that offers a valuable lesson about our personal technology: the devil is in the default settings.

The saying refers to the factory settings that tech companies configure deep within the devices, apps, and websites we use. Typically, this setting causes us to share data about our activities and location. Normally we can opt out of this data collection, but companies design menus and buttons to be hard to notice, probably in the hope that we won’t change them right away.

Usually, Apple, Google, Amazon, Meta, and Microsoft want us to leave some factory settings on for the purpose of training their algorithms and detecting software flaws, making their products easier for us to use. However, sharing unnecessary data is not always in our best interest.

Consider how multiple whistleblowers confessed in 2018 to listening to Apple Siri recordings and Amazon Alexa activations that inadvertently recorded couples having sex. The recent reversal of the ruling in Roe v. Wade also underscores the many ways women can be tracked through their personal technology when seeking 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 reduce the data we share. Here’s a simple guide to many of the default settings that I and other tech writers always tweak.

Settings for the iPhone (Reuters)
Settings for the iPhone (Reuters)

Apple cell phones

On iPhones, users can open the Settings app and enter the privacy menu to change how they share data about their app usage and location. (Technically, Apple asks people if they want to accept some of these settings when they activate a new iPhone, but these steps can be easily skipped. These tips would disable data sharing.)

— Select Tracking and turn off Allow 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 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.

— Select Location Services, tap System Services, and turn off iPhone Analytics and Route & Traffic to prevent the device from sharing geolocation data with Apple to improve Apple Maps.

Google products

Google products, which include Android phones and web services such as Google search, YouTube, and Google Maps, are linked to Google accounts, and the control panel for modifying data management is on the myactivity website. Google com.

(dpa)
(dpa)

— For all three activities (web and app activity, location history, and YouTube history) choose auto-delete to delete activity older than three months. In this way, instead of creating a permanent record of each search, Google purges the entries that are older than ninety days. In the short term, you can still make useful recommendations based on recent searches.

— An additional tip for Android phones from Ryne Hager, an editor at the Android Police tech blog: Newer versions of Android give people the ability to share an approximate location rather than their precise location through apps. For many applications, such as weather software, sharing approximate data should be enough, and geolocation data should be shared exclusively with software that needs it to function properly, such as mapping applications.

Meta’s Facebook

The most important Meta settings can be accessed through the privacy checker tool within the settings menu. Here are some important tweaks to prevent employee and marketer meddling:

— For “Who can see what you share,” select “Only me” for people with access to your friends list and Pages you follow, and select “Friends” for those 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 Ad Preferences,” turn off the options for relationship status, employment, position, and education. This way, marketers cannot send targeted ads based on this information.

Windows from Microsoft

Windows PCs come with a host of data sharing settings turned on at the factory that help Microsoft, advertisers, and websites learn more about us. Switches to turn off those settings can be found by opening the Settings menu and clicking on 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 chimes that play when something goes wrong in Windows.

The Amazon Site 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 that I highly recommend turning off:

— Amazon last year 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 malicious people to gain access to people’s data. To disable it on an 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 Sidewalk, and toggle the switch to the off position.

For a Ring camera, in the Ring app, tap the icon with the three lines in the top left and tap Control Center and then tap Amazon Sidewalk and slide the switch to the off position.

— On Amazon’s website, some shopping lists (such as items saved to a wish list) are shared with the public by default, which can be revealing information. Visit the Your Lists page and set each shopping list to private.

© The New York Times 2022


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