There’s a catchy saying floating around with a valuable lesson in our personal technology: the devil is in the defaults.
The saying refers to the default settings that tech companies embed deep into the devices, apps, and websites we use. These settings generally require 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 in hopes that we won’t change them immediately.
Apple, Google, Amazon, Meta, and Microsoft generally want us to leave certain settings at default, supposedly to train their algorithms and find bugs, which then makes their products easier to use. But unnecessary data sharing is not always in our interest.
So with every technology product we use, it’s important to take the time to navigate through 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 are always changing.
With iPhones, users can open the settings app and access the privacy menu to change how they share data about their app usage and location. (Apple technically asks users to enable some of these settings when activating a new iPhone, but these steps can easily be missed. These tips would disable data sharing.)
Select Tracking and turn off Allow apps to request tracking. This instructs all apps not to share data with third parties for marketing purposes.
Select Apple Advertising and opt out of personalized ads so that Apple cannot use information about you to serve targeted ads on its App Store, Apple News, and Stocks.
Select Analytics and 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 & Traffic to prevent the device from sharing geodata with Apple to improve Apple Maps.
Google products, including Android phones and web services such as Google Search, YouTube, and Google Maps, are tied to Google Accounts, and the control panel for fine-tuning data management can be found on the myactivity website. google.com.
For all three categories – Web & App Activity, Location History, and YouTube History – set auto-delete to delete activity older than three months. This way, instead of creating a permanent record of every search, Google purges entries that are older than 90 days. In the short term, he can still make useful recommendations based on recent research.
A bonus tip for Android phones comes from Ryne Hager, an editor of the “Android Police” tech blog: Newer versions of Android give people the option to share an approximate location rather than their precise location with apps. For many applications, such as weather software, sharing approximate data should be the way to go, and precise geodata should only be shared with software that needs it to function properly, such as mapping applications.
Facebook from Meta
Meta’s most important settings can be accessed through the privacy checker tool in the settings menu. Here are some important tweaks to prevent spying by employers and marketers:
For “Who can see what you share,” select “Only me” for people with access to your friends list and the 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 search for you by email or phone number.
For “Your Facebook Ad Preferences,” turn off the switches for relationship 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 Ring cameras. There are two settings I highly recommend turning off:
Amazon last year launched Amazon Sidewalk, a program that automatically allows new Amazon products to share Internet connections with other nearby devices. Critics say Sidewalk could open doors for bad actors to access people’s data.
To turn it off for an Echo speaker, open the Amazon Alexa app and tap More at the bottom right of the screen. In settings, tap Account Settings, choose Amazon Sidewalk, and toggle Sidewalk to off.
For a Ring camera, in the Ring app, tap the three-line icon in the top left, then tap Control Center. Tap Amazon Sidewalk and slide the button to the off position.
On Amazon’s website, certain shopping lists – such as items saved on a wishlist – 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 host of data sharing settings enabled by default to help Microsoft, advertisers, and websites learn more about us. The switches to disable these settings can be found by opening the settings menu and clicking on Privacy & Security, then General.
Yet Windows’ worst default setting may have nothing to do with privacy. Whenever Kimber Streams, an editor at Wirecutter, tests new laptops, one of their first steps is to open the sound menu and select No Sound to turn off the many annoying chimes that sound whenever something goes wrong. does not go with Windows.
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