There is a catchy saying going around with a valuable lesson about our personal technology: The devil is in the defaults.
The saying refers to the default settings that technology companies embed deeply into the devices, apps, and websites we use. These settings generally cause us to share data about our activities and location. We can usually opt out of this data collection, but companies make menus and buttons hard to notice, probably hoping we won’t change them right away.
Apple, Google, Amazon, Meta, and Microsoft generally want us to leave some default settings, supposedly to train their algorithms and catch bugs, which then makes their products easier for us to use. But unnecessary data sharing is not always in our best interest.
So with every technology product we use, it’s important to take time to peruse the many menus, buttons, and switches to reduce the data we share. Here’s a simplified guide to many of the default settings that I and other tech writers always change.
With iPhones, users can open the settings app and enter the privacy menu to change how they share data about the use and location of your application.
Select Tracking and uncheck Allow apps to 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 serve targeted ads on its App Store, Apple News, and Stocks.
Select Analytics & Improvements and turn off Share iPhone Analytics to prevent iPhone from sending device data to Apple to improve its products.
Select Location Services, tap System Services, and turn off iPhone Analytics and Routing and Traffic to prevent your device from sharing geographic data with Apple 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 the control panel to adjust data management is located on the website. myactivity.google.com.
For all three categories (Web & App Activity, Location History, and YouTube History), set auto-delete to delete activity that’s older than three months. This way, instead of creating a permanent record of each search, Google purges entries that are older than 90 days. In the short term, it can still make useful recommendations based on recent searches.
Ryne Hager, editor of the technology blog “android police”: Newer versions of Android give people the ability to share an approximate location rather than their precise location with apps. For many applications, such as weather software, sharing rough data should be the way to go, and precise geographic data should be shared only with software that needs it to function properly, such as mapping applications.
The most important Meta settings can be accessed through the privacy verification tool within the settings menu. Here are some important settings to prevent spying by employers and vendors:
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 who can see your birthday.
For “How people can find you on Facebook,” choose “Only me” for people who can find you by email or phone number.
For “Your Facebook Ad Preferences,” turn off the switches for marital status, employer, job title, and education. This way, marketers cannot serve targeted ads based on this information.
Amazon website 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 recommend disabling:
Amazon last year launched Amazon Sidewalk, a program that automatically makes Amazon’s newest products share Internet connections with other nearby devices. Critics say Sidewalk could open doors for bad actors to gain access to people’s data.
To disable it for an Echo speaker, open the Amazon Alexa app and tap More at the bottom right of the screen. Inside settings, tap Account Settings, choose Amazon Sidewalk, and toggle Sidewalk to the off position.
For a Ring camera, in the Ring app, tap the three-line icon in the top left, then tap Control Center. Tap on Amazon Sidewalk and slide the button to the off position.
On the Amazon website, some shopping lists, such as items saved to a wish list, are shared with the public by default, which may reveal information. Visit the your lists page and set each shopping list to private.
Windows PCs come with a lot of data sharing settings turned on by default to help Microsoft, advertisers, and websites learn more about us. The switches to disable those settings can be found by opening the settings menu and clicking on Privacy and security and then General.
However, the worst Windows default settings may not have anything to do with privacy. Whenever Kimber Streams, an editor at Wirecutter, tests new laptops, one of his first steps is to open the sound menu and select No Sounds to silence the annoying chimes that go off when something goes wrong with Windows.