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How To Change Your Privacy Settings for a Safer Online Experience

Google Activity Controls page in dark mode with Web & App Activity settings disabled

Staying safe online means being smart about what information you share and with whom. Your computers and mobile devices collect vast amounts of personal data that you may not even realize.

Do you know exactly what your iPhone shares with Apple? Or what Microsoft does with your search and browsing history?

Lax privacy settings on your gadgets could expose your sensitive information to hackers, advertisers, identity thieves and other threats. Fortunately, you‘re not powerless – adjusting your privacy settings helps regain control.

This comprehensive guide will walk through the key privacy settings on major platforms like iOS, Android, Windows, MacOS, Chrome and more. Follow our tips to easily enhance online privacy and security on all your devices.

Why Privacy Settings Matter More Than Ever

Technology has enormously improved our lives. But every search, click, like and purchase also chips away at our personal privacy.

Your phones and computers gather staggering amounts of data:

  • Location everywhere you go
  • Sites you visit
  • Videos you watch
  • Ads you click
  • Apps you use
  • Purchases you make
  • Voice commands you give
  • And much more…

Many users are deeply concerned about all this tracking:

  • 81% of US adults say the potential risks they face because of data collection by companies outweigh the benefits. (Pew Research)

  • 64% feel they have little to no control over the data companies collect on them. (Axios Survey)

Why should you worry about companies stockpiling your personal information? There are a few big reasons:

Targeted advertising

The data harvested from your devices allows companies like Google and Facebook to serve ads catered specifically to your interests. While some find targeted ads useful, others object to that level of monitoring.

Identity theft

The more places your personal information circulates online, the bigger target you become for identity thieves. Stolen personal data cost consumers $56 billion in 2020 according to a Javelin Strategy report.

Security risks

Broad data collection increases risks of sensitive details being leaked in a hack. For instance, a Microsoft data breach exposed 250 million customer service records containing financial information, IP addresses and contact information.

Lack of control

Many feel uncomfortable with tech giants tracking their data by default without really informing users or giving them a say. Adjusting your privacy settings helps regain control.

Protecting identity

Strict privacy settings make it harder for strangers to access details like your location and contacts that could facilitate stalking or identity theft.

So how much is your personal data worth? One economist estimates $240 per year for Google and Facebook. Another study found the value as high as $1,200 annually for some users.

You have more reasons than ever to adjust your privacy settings in 2022 and beyond. The next section will guide you step-by-step through the key settings to change on all major platforms.

Comparing Default Privacy Settings

Before jumping into how to update your privacy settings, it helps to understand how tech companies configure them by default out of the box:

Platform Default Settings Implications
Google On by default Extensive tracking of searches, browsing, location and app activity for ad targeting
Microsoft On by default Collects usage data for ads and product improvement
Apple More privacy-friendly defaults But still need to opt out of some location tracking and analytics
Android Varies by device Some manufacturers allow more tracking than others
Browsers Trackers and cookies allowed by default Can log browsing habits, serve targeted ads
Smart home Varies by device Many collect audio, allow location tracking
Social media Minimal privacy protections Apps track your activity for highly targeted ads

Google and Microsoft devices are optimized by default to collect as much user data as possible. Apple offers more privacy-friendly defaults, but you still need to limit some tracking.

For social media apps, it‘s best to assume minimal privacy until you selectively opt in to data sharing. Smart home gadgets also vary wildly – an Amazon Alexa allows much more surveillance than a smart lightbulb.

But the good news is – no matter what platforms you use, there are always settings you can adjust to protect privacy.

Now let‘s dive into step-by-step instructions for locking down settings on all major operating systems and devices.

How to Change Privacy Settings on Google

Google collects vast amounts of user information for targeted advertising and product improvement. Adjust these key settings to limit Google‘s data tracking:

Limit Web & App Tracking

What it does: Logs your searches, sites visited, videos watched, and other app usage data to personalize services and ads.

To change: On your computer, go to Google Activity Controls and turn off both "Web & App Activity" and "Include Chrome history and activity from sites and apps that use Google services."

You can also pause Web & App Activity in the Google Privacy Checkup. On Android, disable Web & App Activity in Settings.

Google Activity Controls page in dark mode with Web & App Activity settings disabled

Stop Location Tracking

What it does: Stores everywhere you go with an Android phone or other mobile device to offer location-based suggestions and remember places you‘ve visited.

To change: On your computer, go to Google Activity Controls and turn off "Location History." Also disable "Location History" in the Google Privacy Checkup.

On Android, go to Settings > Security & Location > Location > Google Location History and turn it off. For enhanced privacy, limit location access for other apps too.

Limit Ad Personalization

What it does: Uses your search history, YouTube viewing, Chrome browsing and other activity to serve ultra targeted ads.

To change: Go to Ads Personalization and turn off ad personalization. You can also reset your advertising ID on Android.

Delete Past Activity

What it does: Lets you wipe your search history, location history, browsing data and other Google account activity logs.

To change: On your computer, go to Google Activity Controls and delete past activity from your account by selecting date ranges.

You can also set data to auto-delete every 3 months in the Google Privacy Checkup. On Android, clear past activity in Settings.

Use Incognito Mode

What it does: Lets you browse the web without any activity being saved to your Google account.

To change: Open an Incognito tab in Chrome on your computer or Android device. Any searches or sites visited in that tab won‘t be logged. Close all Incognito tabs when finished browsing privately.

How to Change Privacy Settings on Microsoft Devices

Microsoft tracks a large volume of user data for advertising and product improvement purposes:

Limit Diagnostic Data Tracking

What it does: Sends Microsoft info about how you use apps, diagnostic data like errors, and general analytics. Used to fix bugs and improve products.

To change: On Windows 10, go to Settings > Privacy > Diagnostics & feedback. Turn off both options under "Diagnostic data."

On Windows 11, go to Settings > Privacy & security > Diagnostics & feedback > Diagnostic data and turn this to Optional.

Disable Targeted Ads

What it does: Uses your Microsoft browsing history, location and usage data to serve personalized ads in Microsoft apps and services.

To change: Go to Settings > Privacy > General. Turn off "Let apps use my advertising ID for experiences across apps."

Limit Location Tracking

What it does: Remembers places you go with your device to offer location-tailored suggestions and recommendations.

To change: Go to Settings > Privacy > Location and turn off location services. For enhanced privacy, also limit location access for other apps.

Stop Speech Data Collection

What it does: Stores voice samples and associated usage data to improve speech recognition across Microsoft products and services.

To change: Go to Settings > Privacy > Speech. Turn off or limit options like "Online speech recognition", "Speech services" and "Personalization."

Use InPrivate Browsing

What it does: Lets you browse the web without any browsing history being stored on your device. Site visits are not logged to your account.

To change: Open an InPrivate window in Microsoft Edge. Regular browsing will resume when you close InPrivate.

How to Enhance Privacy on Apple Devices

Apple prioritizes consumer privacy more than other tech giants. But you should still limit ad tracking and analytics:

Stop Ad Tracking

What it does: Allows Apple and third parties to target you with relevant ads across Apple services and apps.

To change on iPhone: Go to Settings > Privacy > Apple Advertising and turn off Personalized Ads.

To change on Mac: Go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy > Apple Advertising and uncheck Personalized Ads.

Limit Analytics Sharing

What it does: Sends usage statistics and crash data to Apple automatically to improve products and fix bugs.

To change on iPhone: Go to Settings > Privacy > Analytics & Improvements. Turn off Share iPhone/iPad Analytics.

To change on Mac: Go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy > Analytics & Improvements. Deselect options like Share Mac Analytics and Share with App Developers.

Review Location Settings

What it does: Allows Apple to track places you visit frequently to provide more personalized, location-based recommendations in Maps, Weather and other apps.

To change: On iPhone, go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services. Review which apps have location access and limit any unnecessary tracking.

Use Private Browsing

What it does: Lets you browse web pages without any history being logged on your device or linked to your Apple ID account.

To change on iPhone: Open Safari, tap tabs, scroll down and select Private. Close the tab when done to end the private session.

To change on Mac: Go to File > New Private Window in Safari. Private browsing ends when you close the window.

Privacy Tips for Social Media, Browsers & Smart Home

In addition to mobile and computer operating systems, keep these other privacy best practices in mind:

Social media

  • Limit ad targeting in settings
  • Be selective in sharing personal data
  • Use anonymous accounts when possible
  • Frequently purge your post history

Web browsers

  • Delete cookies regularly
  • Use private/incognito browsing
  • Install ad and tracker blockers
  • Disable location tracking

Smart home devices

  • Disable microphone access when not in use
  • Review data collection policies
  • Connect only essential devices to WiFi
  • Place cameras in private areas only

Public WiFi

  • Avoid banking or sharing sensitive data
  • Make sure sites use HTTPS encryption
  • Use a VPN to encrypt traffic
  • Turn off file sharing features

Gaming consoles

  • Limit ad tracking in settings
  • Use parental controls to restrict data use
  • Mute mics when not gaming online
  • Create anonymous user profiles when possible

Video streaming

  • Use watch histories selectively
  • Create user profiles to limit tracking of others
  • Cancel services you don‘t regularly use

Leverage Additional Privacy Tools

Along with adjusting platform settings, specialized tools can further safeguard your data:

Use a VPN – Encrypts all network traffic so internet providers can‘t see your browsing activity. Top choice is NordVPN.

Install an ad blocker – Removes online ads and stops trackers from following you around the web. Total Adblock is a top choice.

Leverage identity protection – Services like Incogni remove personal details from data brokers.

Frequently reset devices – Performing periodic factory resets on phones, laptops and tablets can wipe away accumulated data and cookies.

Take Control of Your Online Privacy

Your personal data has tremendous value, so don‘t surrender it freely. Adjusting default privacy settings is a key step toward regaining control.

Follow this guide to update all computers, phones, browsers and devices with your desired privacy levels. Get in the habit of regularly checking settings and enabling options like auto-delete.

Complement strong privacy settings by adopting encryption tools like VPNs and taking an anonymous, minimalist approach to online sharing.

The internet continues growing more invasive. But whether you want to reduce ads, boost security, or keep personal details safe from prying eyes – these tips will help you reclaim your right to privacy.

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Streamr Go

StreamrGo is always about privacy, specifically protecting your privacy online by increasing security and better standard privacy practices.