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How to improve privacy on your devices by limiting the data they collect about you

May 8, 2018    |    Cyber Security    |    Tina McCain

No individual or company is responsible for your online privacy. You are. The latest news and reactions to Facebook and Cambridge Analytics privacy issues give us prime examples of that. However, as we continue to purchase more and more devices, we agree to let these new gadgets track us – some in obvious ways, others in less obvious ways. It’s not possible to avoid all tracking if you intend to use devices, from phones to laptops to fitness trackers and more. But you can put restrictions in place to limit what’s collected. Here are some tips on what you can do and how to do it.

Smartphones

When you use a phone, you make a deal, whether it’s with Google or Apple, and you agree to provide them with data. We won’t be providing you with step-by-step instructions on how to set up each phone because it varies so much between iPhones and the numerous Android phones. But we’ll tell you what you should search for as far as settings and privacy.

On iOS, you’ll want to find a Privacy menu and then Analytics. Apple tells you what data is logged and shared here. Specifically on its support site in regards to sensitive personal information, it says, “Personal data is either not logged at all in the reports generated, is subject to privacy preserving techniques such as differential privacy, or is removed from any reports before they’re sent to Apple.” Also under Privacy, you should see all of the permissions used by apps. Take the time to review each of those. We often click OK without reading permissions when installing new apps. Revoke permissions that seem unnecessary.

On Android phones, you’ll want to search for Settings and then find Google and a section about Privacy. You’ll find information on what Google logs, from voice searches to location tracking. It’s a trade off to use the “free” services, such as location sharing with another Android phone user. Choose what fits your needs best. However, know that even if you turn off location services, reports state that Google still records that information. The company has said it would stop. After reviewing your Google account data sharing, you’ll then need to go through what permissions apps have. Look for App permissions under Apps & Notifications. Check out which apps are listening (microphone access), watching (camera) and following (location)!

Fitness trackers

After a hard workout, it’s pretty cool to be able to sync your fitness tracker and see data about what you accomplished. This requires data tracking and sharing, but you should be aware of all data about you that it tracks. An interesting story popped up in the news not long ago about the world heat map Strava put out showing all of the “routes” traveled by its fitness app users. This led to unknowingly flagging military bases. The U.S. military had to address policies regarding the use of personal devices that track steps and location. You may not be walking a patrol route around a top-secret military base in a strategic location, but still take the time to read through privacy policies you’ve agreed to for using your specific device. Some of the apps, such as Strava, allow you to choose to limit certain permissions. For this particular app, you can jump into the Menu, and find Privacy Controls under the settings. You can also adjust other settings from the company’s website, such as opting out of the heat maps or setting up privacy zones. Remember, though, that you’ve still agreed to the privacy policy by using the app, which includes using your personal information to “develop [their] products” but they “respect your privacy and share your concern about the security of data you may submit.”

Computers

Using a PC or Mac also requires you to agree to privacy policies. Besides the operating system, what else might be tracking data on your computers? Installed applications and websites visited on your browser. Thinking about installing some new software? Consider its privacy policy, too.

To limit an Apple computer, find the Security & Privacy information in System Preferences. From within there, you can find options for turning off tracking by the OS as well as apps. Under Analytics, you’ll find the data your machines boxes up and ships back over to Apple for you.

Check out Microsoft’s privacy policy as well, and then hit up the Privacy options under the Windows 10 Settings. You can allow apps to access advertising information, grant websites access to the language settings, send Windows information about how you use the Start menu, and allow suggested content under the Settings app. You can also visit the company’s website from a link on the page and review your Microsoft data stored in the cloud.

What about Chromebooks? These are similar to Android phones, so check out your Google account page to see what’s up. There’s a link from that page, Manage your Google activity, that you should click on and review.

Protecting your location on all devices

Installing a VPN is the best way to block your location from data sharing. You can start today with a free 7-day trial of Private Tunnel. Doing so protects your information from the sites you visit, the applications you use and your ISP. When browsing the web, you’ll do so sending only encrypted data, protecting you from cybersecurity threats.

It’s up to you to protect your privacy by being vigilant with your devices.

Better Safe Than Sorry