Practice Data Privacy Hygiene: The Defaults are Never in Your Favor

Last Updated on May 21, 2021

Do you practice data privacy hygiene? Because when it comes to privacy settings, the defaults are never in your favor.

Tech giants that run the attention economy NEED our data to fuel their business – as much of it as they can take. Data conquistadors declare your data theirs to capture, use to manipulate your behavior, and sell to others.

When you use their product, they make a product out of you.

They can get away with it because we do not have time to read the small print of the privacy policies – and they know it. So they set the default privacy settings to this:

Your data belongs to us to use any way we want.

They also inform us that the privacy policies can change any time – and they do. That’s why privacy hygiene is not “set it and forget it” exercise. It’s something you need to do frequently.

Every tech company is racing to acquire new digital products, develop new features, launch new Internet of Things devices. Microfoft owns Skype and Xbox. Google owns Nest and Fitbit. Amazon owns Alexa. Facebook owns WhatsApp. And so it goes – with every new thing a new channel of data acquisition.

According to the author of Surveillance Capitalism, data acquisition is the primary reason for the existence of digital products. Privacy settings are outdated the moment a new channel of data extraction is launched – they will set up default privacy settings in THEIR favor, not YOURS. With things changing so fast in the tech world, privacy check-ups need to happen more often than your annual health check-ups.

Why should we even bother to change privacy settings? A couple of good reasons:

  • Everything you say can and will be used against you. If you want to protect your soul from creepy “relevant advertising” that strikes at the heart of your insecurities, you need to build a hedge of protection against those who use your pain for their profit.
  • They do not pay you for your data – why should you work for them for free?
  • Protect your free will and humanity from algorithmic mind control

How much to reveal to your friends is up to you. The question is how much to reveal to the algorithms. They are not about connecting you with people, but separating you from your money through the power of targeted ads. The more AI knows about you, the better it can manipulate your behavior, the more money it can make from you in behavioral advertising.

Tech platforms are obligated by law to provide privacy choices to the users – but they leave it to the user to be proactive and take action, knowing full well – we are too busy.

To make it easier, we assembled simple steps to privacy hygiene that anyone can take.

1. Facebook

Start here:
Account ->Settings and Privacy -> Privacy Checkup OR
Account ->Settings and Privacy -> Privacy Shortcuts

Limit The Audience of Your Data

Under Who Can See What You Share, make sure it’s only you and your friends you share sensitive details with – not the whole world. Set the toggles to Only Me or Friends

Facebook Using Your Data for Facebook Ads

Your Ad Preferences is where the magic happens – for Facebook, making money from your data when they sell it to advertisers. Toggle off what you don’t want advertisers to use:

Location tracking

They can catch you more effectively when they know where you are – serving you ads for the store when you are standing in front of it.

Facial recognition

A creepy feature to turn off is the dystopian nightmare of facial recognition:

Your Social Interactions Alongside Ads

You clicked “Like” on something – and your name and picture shows up in ads for that business. Tell Facebook you do not work for them:

Third Parties Using Your Facebook Data

Under your Data Settings you can turn off access to your Facebook data from third party apps you might have used your Facebook credentials to login:

Advertisers Reaching You Off Facebook

Facebook Using Data From Third Parties

Clear Off-Facebook Activity that Facebook can use to build a more detailed profile of you:

Dig Deeper

Do not stop at the user-friendly “privacy review” interface – dig deeper. There is more surveillance to be revealed in the small print that is constantly changing. Go through all settings and ask yourself one question :

“How can this be used against me?”

2. Amazon

There are three (for now) main surveillance channels to monitor:

  • Your Amazon account
  • Amazon devices
  • Alexa

Clear Browsing History

Turn Off Interest-Based Ads

Make Sure Your Wish Lists are Private

And while you are at it, disable Alexa voice shopping.

Be Careful What You Say To Alexa

Alexa is Amazon’s artificial intelligence that is equipped with microphones that are always listening – and now cameras that are always watching. It is also integrated with a growing universe of third-party smart home devices, each with their own surveillance policy. At the very minimum, instruct Alexa to delete all recordings:

Alexa has its own privacy settings section: https://amazon.com/help/AlexaPrivacy

Opt Out of Targeted Ads on a Device Level

Kindles, Fire TVs, Alexa gadgets and every present and future Amazon device is its own data extraction highway that needs to be managed on a device level:
Settings > Preferences > Privacy Settings > Collect App Usage Data.
Settings > Preferences > Privacy Settings > Interest-based Ads.

3. Google

Google knows too much about us. To mitigate the damage, sign in into your Google account and review your Privacy and Personalization settings:

Delete Web Activity to Limit Personalized Recommendations

Turn Off Location Services to Hide Where You Are

Delete YouTube History to Make Up Your Own Mind What To Watch

Turn Off Ad Personalization

Choose Who Can See Your Personal Information

Go to People and Sharing->Choose What Others See section of your account and make sure which of your personal metrics can only be seen by you:

Check Which Third Party Apps Have Access to Your Account

Security->Third Party Apps with account access

Adjust Chrome Browser Settings

These are not your Google account settings, but browser settings that can be accessed by clicking on 3 little dots in the upper right corner. Under Privacy and Security you can block third-party cookies, pop-ups, customize permissions and clear browsing history.

4. Apple

Apple wins the prize for data privacy. Their approach is different from others: they make privacy a selling feature for the end user, as opposed to selling the user – you and me – to the highest bidder.

Location Services

To balance convenience with privacy, only turn it on for the apps that rely on precise location for functionality – like Maps or Uber – and in the setting While Using The App. The others do not need to know.

While using apps that can’t work properly without location services, you can choose to share only your approximate location. To turn Precise Location off: Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Select App > While Using App > Toggle Off “Precise Location.”

Do Not Track

Under Settings > Privacy > Tracking, toggle off Allow Apps to Request to Track to prevent apps from tracking your activity across the Internet.

Starting with iOS 14.5, you control how apps use your personal data to track you – a welcome development. Every app in the App store would be required to disclose their tracking practices, and you are given a choice to opt out.

Photos, Camera, Contacts, Microphone, Siri and everything else

Under Settings > Privacy, Apple gives you a choice how private you want each feature to be. Review each one and toggle off anything that makes you uncomfortable. 

Analytics

Toggle off sharing your data with Apple.

Apple Advertising

Privacy > Apple Advertising: turn off personalized ads from Apple.

Learn more about Apple’s privacy options at https://www.apple.com/privacy/control/

5. Microsoft

Your laptop is no sanctuary from invasive advertising. Microsoft Windows can track your PC just like apps track your phone.

On the Start  menu, select Settings  > Privacy.

Tracking and Advertising

Toggle off advertising ID and tracking options to disable apps’ access to your data. We primarily use our desktop computers for work, and seeing “relevant ads” is just plain disruptive for our productivity. I would rather see ads I don’t care for when I am working.

Get Rid of Cortana

Microsoft’s Cortana is an AI assistant like Amazon’s Alexa that tracks everything you say and do. Turn her off and clear the history.  

In the Windows Privacy Settings > App Permissions > Voice Activation toggle off Cortana permissions.

Location Data

To prevent Windows apps from using your location to personalize content, turn location services off:

App Permissions

Review which Windows apps have access to camera, microphone, contacts and other sensitive data and only keep the necessary ones you actually use (Skype, Zoom, etc.).

Diagnostics

Turn off diagnostic data to get rid of “tailored experiences” of personalized ads.

Activity History

Clear activity history associated with your Microsoft account. You can also login into your Microsoft account at https://account.microsoft.com/account/privacy. Here you can clear any activity associated with your account. Under Ad Settings, toggle off personalized ads. 

6. Is That All?

Once we attended to our data privacy on the Big 5 –  Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Apple – can we relax? 

Not really.

Every device and every app collects data, and unless you MANUALLY adjust privacy settings, your data is collected by DEFAULT. To practice proper privacy hygiene, you have to audit every single app and gadget you use – from your smartphone to your smart toothbrush. 

7. What If I Pay Them?

A common myth perpetrated by big tech goes like this: we provide you with FREE tech toys, and we take your data in exchange – it’s only fair. Because if you don’t we are going to have to charge you for your Facebook account.

So if we pay for the service, our data is safe?

Think again.

Data is money. Nothing is sacred – even a paying customer.

Privacy loopholes that people largely overlook include your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and your cell phone company. Your home WiFi and your cell phone are data-mined and sold to third parties by the very companies that take your money. Outrageous, I know. But not illegal.

Verizon tracks your web activity with a permanent, undeletable cookie, across the entire Internet – and sells you to advertisers. T-Mobile uses mobile advertising IDs assigned to every mobile device to serve targeted ads. Their competition does the same.

To opt out, login into your customer accounts and dig up privacy settings that are often buried deep. Otherwise they assume you don’t mind being tracked.

Join the resistance. Big Tech does not share their revenues with you, why should you share your data with them?

May the privacy settings be ever in your favor.

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