Our Complete Guide to Online Privacy and Security Settings

Privacy Key

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Chances are that if you’re not reading all those updated data policies flooding your inbox, then you probably haven’t even looked for your privacy settings. And that’s exactly what Facebook, Google and other tech giants are counting on.

They all have default settings, and most of them are for the company’s benefit, not yours.

They tout that we, the users, are “in control” of our personal data, but know most of us won’t change the settings that let them vacuum up our personal and private information. Call it the Rule of Defaults: 95 percent of people are too busy, or too confused, to change a darn thing.

While there are many privacy settings, some obvious and some hidden, their “stated’ goal is to make our privacy easier to control. So, here is a basic list of settings everyone needs to pay attention to. That means changing most of the default settings that most people ignore.

Some of their defaults are just plain invasive. Google has been saving a map of everywhere you go, if you turned on its Assistant when you set up an Android phone.

Amazon makes your wish list public — and keeps recordings of all your conversations with Alexa.

Facebook exposes to the public your friends list and all the pages you follow, and it lets marketers use your name in their Facebook ads. By default, Microsoft’s Cortana in Windows 10 gobbles up … pretty much your entire digital life.

After studying the fine print in the European General Data Protection Act, or GDPR, (that recently went into effect and prompted all those privacy policy emails), we have come to the conclusion that privacy and security analysts are correct … there is a huge spill-over effect to the USA.

Plus, analysts also conclude that despite promises from the largest online providers, almost nothing has changed. They will continue to do as they have always done. Only now, they are telling you about it.

Changing the defaults listed here mean you’ll get less personalization from some services, and might see some repeated ads.

But these changes can curtail some of the creepy advertising fuelled by your data, and, in some cases, stop these giant companies from collecting so much data about you in the first place. And that’s a good place to start.


  1. Anyone can see all your Facebook friends and all the weird pages you follow. That includes employers, stalkers, identity thieves and quite possibly your mother.
  • On your phone’s Facebook app, tap the button with three lines, then scroll to Settings & Privacy, then tap Settings, and then Privacy Settings. Or use this link on the Web. Then switch Who can see your friends list from Public to Friends — or, even better, Only me.
  • Do the same on that same page with a separate setting for Who can see the people, Pages and lists you follow.

What you are losing: Strangers being able to hunt you down or discover your interests.

  1. Facebook knows what you do with your time … because when people tag you in a photo or post, it automatically shows up on your timeline.
  • In the Facebook app under Settings & Privacy, then Settings, then Timeline and Tagging (or at this link on the Web) switch On the option Review posts you’re tagged in before the post appears on your timeline.

What you are losing: Letting others post on your behalf — at least until you approve each post.

  1. Facebook keeps all of your facial images. By default, it scans all the photos and video you share to create digital face IDs — unless you tell them hands off your facial images.
  • In the Facebook app under Settings & Privacy, then Settings, then Face Recognition (or at this link on the Web) switch to No  under Do you want Facebook to be able to recognize you in photos and videos?

What you are losing: Facebook won’t recommend tagging you in photos, and won’t give you a heads up when someone else posts a photo of you.

  1. Don’t give it all away to Facebook advertisers, either. Each member in North America was worth $82 in advertising to Facebook in 2017.

Advertisers can use very personal data to target you, making Facebook ads even creepier than they have to be.

  • In the Facebook app’s Settings & Privacy menu, tap Settings, then Ad Preferences (or use this link on the Web). Then tap open the section called Your information. There, switch Off ads based on your relationship status, employer, job title and education.
  • While you’re in Ad Preferences, head down to Ad settings and switch to Not allowed for Ads based on data from partners and Ads based on your activity on Facebook Company Products that you see elsewhere.

What you are losing: More “relevant” ads, which is more of a problem for advertisers than for you

  1. Facebook can use you in THEIR ads without compensation! Just by “liking” a page, you give Facebook advertisers permission to use your name in ads they show your friends — and you don’t get a dime.
  • On your phone under Settings & Privacy, then Settings, then Ad Preferences (or at this link on the Web) tap open Ads Settings and switch to No One the setting for Ads that include your social actions.

What you are losing: Use of your name by a company you might not actually care very much about.


Google is the giant vacuum of the tech world, sucking up as much personal data as it can get away with.

  1. Google is keeping track of every phrase you ever search for, every site you’ve visited and every YouTube video you’ve watched … including the embarrassing ones.
  • On the Web, use this link to Google’s activity controls to turn off Web and App Activity.
  • While you’re there, scroll down and also turn off YouTube Search History and YouTube Watch History.

What you are losing: Google’s systems won’t get to know you so well.

  1. Google makes a map of everywhere you go and provides that to advertisers, marketers, and even police.
  • On the Web, at the same link for Google’s activity controls to turn off Location History.
  • There are several ways you might have turned on Location History. Google says that in the future, it will stop asking to turn on this function when you initially set up its Assistant an Android phone.

What you are losing: Your own records of where you’ve been. But really, is it that difficult to remember where you were yesterday?

  1. While you’re at it, you can stop oversharing with Google’s advertisers.

Google helps marketers target you on Google-owned sites such as YouTube and Gmail.

What you are losing: You may see less “useful” ads, a concern for nobody – anywhere – ever.


Amazon has grown from a bookstore to an “everything store”, including the maker of devices that listen and watch what’s happening around the house. (Amazon CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos also owns The Washington Post,which in itself should be enough to make you shudder.)

  1. Amazon keeps a recording of everything you’ve ever said to its talking artificial intelligence Alexa — and also, we’ve learned recently, some things you didn’t intend to say to Alexa.
  • You can listen to what Amazon recorded by going to the Alexa app, then tapping Settings, then History. There you can delete individual entries.
  • You can delete whole bunch of recordings at once by logging in to your Amazon account on the Web, then looking under Account and Lists settings and finding at finding manage your content and devices (or, just use this link). Find your Echo or other Alexa device in the list, then click manage voice recordings.
  • Amazon’s settings don’t offer as much as you might want: there’s no setting to stop Alexa from saving recordings in the future.

What you are losing: A recorded and inventoried audio history of all your goofy questions for Alexa.

  1. Here’s a fun idea next time you’re at a house party: Go up to an Echo speaker, and order its owner a 10-pound bucket of sea salt. Surprise! Anyone with access to your Echo speaker can order products on Amazon.
  • In the Alexa app on your phone, under Settings, scroll to Voice Purchasing and turn it off — or at least put a voice code in place that your kids (or terrible friends) won’t guess.

What you are losing: Super quick product ordering to feed your Prime addiction.

  1. Your Amazon “wish list” is open to the public by default. Yes, it’s nice to buy someone a gift — but I’m doubtful everyone understands it’s open to everyone. You can search people by name at the link here.
  • Set your list to private by using this link clicking on your wish list, then clicking on the three dots next to share list, then tapping manage list, then changing Privacy to Private.

What you are losing: Surprise presents you actually want from people who don’t really know you well enough to just ask.

  1. Amazon keeps a log of every Amazon product you look at — not just the ones you buy.
  • Stop Amazon from tracking you by going clicking Browsing History on Amazon’s homepage and clicking View and Edit (or just use this link), then clicking on Manage history, and turning it Off.

What you are losing: Personalized recommendations for product categories you may or may not want your family members to know you were looking at.


  1. Windows 10 isn’t just an operating system used by 700 million devices: It’s a recording and data gathering device called, Cortana.
  • When you set up Windows 10, it suggests turning on Cortana — which means letting Microsoft collect your location, contacts, voice, speech patterns, search queries, calendar and messaging content.
  • If you don’t plan to use Cortana, decline it when you first set up your computer. Turning it off after the fact is much more complicated. There’s no single button, and some PCs put settings in different places. On most, open Cortana and click on her settings, then Permissions & History, and then individually turn off everything. Also turn off what’s listed under Manage the information Cortana can access from this device. Then go to Cortana, click on the Notebook icon, then click on your Microsoft account and log out.
  • That stops Cortana from collecting future data, but to delete what it already knows, point your Web browser to your Microsoft Privacy settings page and click view and clear on various types of data it has collected. Also go to the Cortana tab and tap Clear Cortana data.

What you are losing: Microsoft’s creepy spyware and another talking virtual assistant.

  1. Windows helps advertisers track your PC using an anonymous ID.
  • Go to Settings, then Privacy, then General, and turn off Let apps use advertising ID to make ads more interesting to you based on your app usage.

What you are losing: Ads that Microsoft thinks you need to see so that they can make commission off your eyeballs.


  1. Apple has a carefully-honed reputation for respecting privacy. But it still makes accommodations for online ad targeting — and you have to know where to look to stop it.

The iPhone shares an anonymous ID for advertisers to target you.

  • To stop it, go to your iPhone’s Settings, then Privacy then Advertising and switch on Limit Ad Tracking.
  • This will impact Apple-made apps, ads served via Apple’s advertising system, and apps that use the iPhone’s Advertising Identifier.

What you are losing: You might get less “relevant” ads, and possibly some repeated ones.

Is that all of the settings?

No, of course not. But these are the basic settings everyone needs to address. If you don’t, then be aware that everything you do, say and where you go will no longer private.

And yes, it will take a little time to address each of these settings. That’s OK, there’s no need to take care of all of them in one sitting. Do a couple at a time and in just a few days you’re all set.

Be Safe – Backup Your Data Regularly!




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