Technical Default Settings You Should Disable Immediately

There is a catchy saying that contains a valuable lesson about our personal technologies: Devil in default settings.

The saying refers to the default settings that tech companies embed deep into the devices, apps, and websites we use. These settings usually force us to share our activity and location data. We can usually choose not to collect data, but companies make menus and buttons invisible, probably in the hope that we won’t set them up right away.

Apple, Google, Amazon, Meta, and Microsoft tend to want us to leave some settings at default, ostensibly to train their algorithms and catch bugs, which then makes it easier for us to use their products. But unnecessary data sharing is not always in our interests.

So with every tech product we use, it’s important to take the time to explore the many menus, buttons, and switches to reduce the amount of data we share. Here is a simplified guide to many of the default settings that I and other tech writers always change.

On iPhone, users can open the settings app and enter the privacy menu to change the settings. how they share data about their use of the app and location.

  • Select “Tracking” and disable “Allow apps to ask for tracking”. This tells all apps not to share data with third parties for marketing purposes.

  • Select Apple Advertising and turn off personalized advertising to prevent Apple from using information about you to serve targeted ads on the App Store, Apple News, and Stocks.

  • Select “Analytics & Improvements” and disable the “Share iPhone Analytics” option 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 your device from sharing location 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 a control panel for data management settings is located on the website.

  • For all three categories—Web & App Activity, Location History, and YouTube History—set automatic deletion to remove activity older than three months. So instead of creating a permanent record of every search, Google removes records older than 90 days. In the near future, it may still provide useful recommendations based on recent searches.

  • Bonus tip for Android phones comes from Ryan Hager, editor of the tech blog “android police”: Newer versions of Android offer users the ability to tell apps their approximate location rather than their exact location. For many applications, such as weather forecasting software, sharing approximate data should be the way to go, and precise location data should only be shared with programs that need it to work properly, such as map applications.

The most important Meta settings can be accessed via privacy check tool inside the settings menu. Here are some important settings to prevent employers and marketers from snooping:

  • For “Who can see what you’re sharing,” 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.

  • In the “How people can find you on Facebook” section, select “Only Me” so people can find you by email or phone number.

  • Under Your Facebook Advertising Preferences, turn off the toggles for Relationship Status, Employer, Position, and Education. Thus, marketers cannot serve targeted ads based on this information.

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 launched last year pavement of the amazon, a program that automatically makes new Amazon products share an internet connection with other devices nearby. Critics say Sidewalk could open doors for attackers to gain access to people’s data.

    To turn it off for your Echo speaker, open the Amazon Alexa app and tap “More” at the bottom right of the screen. In Settings, tap Account Settings, select Amazon Sidewalk, and toggle Sidewalk to Off.

    For the Ring camera in the Ring app, tap the three-line icon in the top left, and then tap Control Center. Touch Amazon Sidewalk and slide the button to the off position.

  • On the Amazon website, some shopping lists – such as items saved on a wish list – are public by default, which may disclose information. visit Your Lists page and make every shopping list private.

Windows PCs come with a lot of sharing settings turned on by default to help Microsoft, advertisers and websites learn more about us. Switches to disable these settings can be found by opening the settings menu and clicking “Privacy and Security” and then “General”.

However, the worst default setting in Windows might have nothing to do with privacy. Whenever Kimber Streams, the editor of Wirecutter, tests new laptops, one of their first steps is to open the sound menu and select “No Sounds” to turn off the many annoying beeps that play whenever something goes wrong with Windows.