Care About Data Privacy? Change These Default Privacy Settings Now

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It is commonly understood that there is no longer any personal privacy. Thanks to how connected we have become through the Internet, everything we do online, and most of what we do off line is being tracked and catalogued.

But we have only ourselves to blame. When we approve access to an Operating System for our computers or wireless devices, we give that provider approval to snatch our personal data and resell it to whoever pays the most. And it’s even scarier with our smart phones and tablets. We give installed apps permission to read our texts, collect our contact lists for resale, copy our financial transactions, and worse.

The scariest part is that we don’t have any idea what those third-party buyers do with our data other than resell it to a variety of both good actors and bad ones.

Seldom do we read all those updated data policies flooding our inbox. And most people probably haven’t even looked at their privacy settings. And that’s exactly what Facebook, Google and other tech giants are counting on.

They tout we’re “in control” of our personal data, but know most of us won’t change the settings that let them grab it like cash in a game show wind machine. Call it the Rule of Defaults: 95 percent of people are too busy, or too confused, to change a darn thing.

How to join the 5 percent who are actually in control of their data privacy.

I dug through the privacy settings for the five biggest consumer tech companies and picked a few of the most egregious defaults you should consider changing.

Some of their defaults are just bonkers. Google has been saving a map of everywhere you go since you set up an Android phone. But you can turn that action off.

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 without your permission. They catalogue and keep all of your typed communications, private messages, and posted photos and memes. And will even ban you for a specified time if you don’t conform to their idea of how you should behave. People call that, with a snicker, Facebook Jail.

And by default, Microsoft’s Windows 10 nightmare gobbles up … pretty much your entire digital life.

My inspiration for poring over the fine print was the European General Data Protection Act, or GDPR, that went into effect last year and prompted all those privacy policy emails. I sent an email to the legal departments of each of the five tech companies listed here and asked what they’d changed — other than their legalese — about default settings or the amount of data they collect on us.

The shocking answer: almost nothing. Facebook claims to be rolling out new privacy controls, but not actually changing your options. So it’s really just a bluff to make you feel better about them.

My suggestions aren’t major in action, but could have a huge effect on protecting yourself. There are further settings, privacy-minded apps, and Web browser add-ons that could help you capture even more of your privacy back. Changing the defaults I list here mean you may 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.

Facebook

Like skinny jeans, the self-proclaimed cool-kids at Facebook make you share more than perhaps you ought to. It’s time to take serious look at what you’re putting out there.

Facebook claims to have rolled out new privacy settings on its mobile apps. Privacy researchers claim they changed the location of some controls on your phone to make the settings pages look different, but didn’t actually change your choices.

  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 give up: Strangers being able to hunt you down or discover your interests.

  1. I know what you did last summer … 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 give up: Letting others post on your behalf — at least until you approve each post.

  1. Your face belongs to Facebook. By default, it scans all the photos and video you share to create digital face IDs — unless you tell them hands off your beautiful face.
  • 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 give up: 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. Reminder: 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 give up: More “relevant” ads, which is more of a problem for advertisers than for you.

  1. Surprise, you’re starring in Facebook ads! Did your check not arrive in the mail? Oh right: 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 give up: Use of your name by a company you might not actually care very much about.

Google

Google is the giant black hole of the tech world, sucking up as much personal data as it can get away with. And seriously, we give it permission to capture as much or more than any government agency could dream about.

  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 give up: You won’t be able to dig back up websites and videos you once visited, and Google’s systems won’t get to know about you as well.

  1. Google makes a map of everywhere you go that would make the CIA envious.
  • 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. Most of them come from adding new apps. The location is usually turned on because you give that app permission to track you when you install it. So make the effort to check if it’s on or off after each time you make changes to your app list.

What you give up: You won’t be able to review where you’ve been, and Google’s recommendations based on your travels won’t be as good. And the favourite stalker you have attracted won’t know exactly where and when you tried to avoid him (or her).

  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 give up: You may see less “useful” ads, a concern for nobody-anywhere-ever.

Amazon

Amazon has grown from a bookstore to an everything store — to the maker of devices that listen and watch what’s happening around your house.

  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, like the time you made fun of Aunt Martha’s blue hair.
  • You can delete a 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 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 give up: An audio history of all your goofy questions for Alexa … or your children asking her to help with homework … or your family discussions about Aunt Martha’s blue hair.

  1. Here’s a fun idea next time you’re at a house party: Go up to an Echo speaker, and order its owner 20 pair of socks to be delivered. 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 give up: Super quick product ordering to feed your Amazon 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 give up: Surprise presents you actually want from people who don’t really know you well enough to just ask.

  1. Amazon knows more than Santa about what you’d like for Christmas. It 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 give up: Personalized recommendations for product categories you may or may not want your family members to know you were looking at.

Microsoft

  1. Windows 10 isn’t just an operating system used by 700 million devices: It’s a data collection system through Microsoft’s less-well-known Artificial Intelligence, 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, and more.
  • 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 – on purpose. 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 give up: a data collection behemoth that can easily be turned into another annoying 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 give up: “More interesting” ads that probably weren’t going to be very interesting in the first place.

  1. Log onto your Windows 10 computer using a Local Account and not your Microsoft Account.
  • Do not log into your Microsoft Account to use Windows-10. When you log out, stay out, it cannot collect data about you unless you are logged in. Simply log in to your computer using a “Local Account” instead of your Microsoft Account. That way everything you do online isn’t sent to Microsoft servers to feed Big Brother’s ever growing appetite.
  • If you need to log into your Microsoft Account to use email, just remember that while you are logged in Microsoft is collecting data (aka: telemetry) about all your computer activity both online & off line. Be sure to log out of your email when you are finished.

What you give up: Big Brother. Yep … THAT guy.

Apple

  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 give up: You might get less “relevant” ads, and possibly some repeated ones.

Be Safe – Backup Your Data Regularly!

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