In my last post, I described the moves companies take in their fight against fake news. That post raised some privacy issues; issues I will further explore in today’s post. Namely, I list here 15 default settings you could change to safeguard your privacy, courtesy of the Washington Post. And the best part? It will only take 15′ of your time.

Have you ever visited an eshop, only to see ads popping up on Facebook about the very same items you were shopping for? This is made possible thanks to various tracking methods. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As the article points out, some of their defaults are plain crazy. Google saves a map of everywhere you go. Amazon makes your wish list public — and keeps recordings of all your conversations with Alexa. Facebook exposes to the public your friends’ list and all the pages you follow, and lets marketers use your name in their Facebook ads. By default, Microsoft’s Cortana in Windows 10 gobbles up … pretty much your entire digital life.

Changing the defaults listed here means you’ll get less personalization from some services and might see some repeated ads. If you don’t mind that, then keep reading! And if you do them all, you can reward yourself by singing a stirring rendition of The Song of Cyberspace Strategy,” a patriotic song about cybersecurity written by the director of the China Institute of Cyberspace Strategy himself.


Facebook is rolling out new privacy settings on its mobile apps, but you may have not gotten them yet. They change the location of some controls on your phone but don’t change your choices.

  • Anyone can see all your Facebook friends and all the weird pages you follow. That includes employers, stalkers, identity thieves and quite possibly your mother.
    • On your phone’s Facebook app, tap the button with three lines, then scroll to Settings & Privacy, then tap Settings and then Privacy Settings. Or use this link on the Web. Then switch Who can see your friends’ list from Public to Friends — or, even better, Only me.
    • Do the same on that same page with a separate setting for Who can see the people, Pages, and lists you follow.
    • What you give up: Strangers being able to hunt you down or discover your interests.
  • I know what you did last summer … because when people tag you in a photo or post, it automatically shows up on your timeline.
    • In the Facebook app under Settings & Privacy, then Settings, then Timeline and Tagging (or at this link on the Web) switch On the option Review posts you’re tagged in before the post appears on your timeline.
    • What you give up: Letting others post on your behalf — at least until you approve each post.
  • Your face belongs to Facebook. By default, it scans all the photos and videos you share to create digital face IDs — unless you tell them hands off your mug.
    • In the Facebook app under Settings & Privacy, then Settings, then Face Recognition (or at this link on the Web) switch to No under Do you want Facebook to be able to recognize you in photos and videos?
    • What you give up: Facebook won’t recommend tagging you in photos and won’t give you a heads-up when someone else posts a photo of you.
Still need more privacy? Then turn off these next three settings to stop Facebook advertisers from tracking you:
  • Advertisers can use very personal data to target you. To change this:
    • In the Facebook app’s Settings & Privacy menu, tap Settings, then Ad Preferences (or use this link on the Web). Then tap open the section called Your information. There, switch Off ads based on your relationship statusemployerjob title and education.
    • While you’re in Ad Preferences, head down to Ad settings and switch to Not allowed for Ads based on data from partners and Ads based on your activity on Facebook Company Products that you see elsewhere.
    • What you give up: More “relevant” ads
  • Just by “liking” a page, you give Facebook advertisers permission to use your name in ads they show your friends.
    • On your phone under Settings & Privacy, then Settings, then Ad Preferences (or at this link on the Web) tap open Ads Settings and switch to No One the setting for Ads that include your social actions.
    • What you give up: Use of your name by a company.


By default, Google’s keeping a list of everything you search for — and every website you visit. Turn that off under Activity controls.
  • Google is keeping track of every phrase you’ve ever searched for, every site you’ve visited and every YouTube video you’ve watched.
    • On the Web, use this link to Google’s activity controls to turn off Web and App Activity.
    • While you’re there, scroll down and also turn off YouTube Search History and YouTube Watch History.
    • What you give up: You won’t be able to dig back up websites and videos you once visited.
  • Google makes a map of everywhere you go.
    • On the Web, at the same link for Google’s activity controls to turn off Location History.
    • There are several ways you might have turned on Location History. It is usually activated when you set up Google’s Assistant, although the company has said it will stop asking you to turn on this function when you initially set up its Assistant on an Android phone.
    • What you give up: You won’t be able to walk down memory lane, and Google’s recommendations based on your travels won’t be as good.

Still not enough? Here is how to stop sharing data with Google’s advertisers:

  • Google helps marketers target you on Google-owned sites such as YouTube and Gmail.


Amazon has grown from a bookstore to an everything store.

Inside the Alexa mobile app, you can see, and delete, recordings of your conversations. Tap Settings, then History, then pick a conversation and tap Delete Voice Recordings.
  • Amazon keeps a recording of everything you’ve ever said to its talking artificial intelligence assistant, Alexa.
    • You can listen to what Amazon has recorded by going to the Alexa app, then tapping Settings, then History. There you can delete individual entries.
    • You can delete a whole bunch of recordings at once by logging into your Amazon account on the Web, then looking under Account and Lists settings and finding Manage your content and devices (or, just use this link). Find your Echo or other Alexa device in the list, then click manage voice recordings.
    • Amazon’s settings don’t offer as much as you might want: There’s no setting to stop Alexa from saving recordings in the future. But you could try out Project Alias — an open-source device that goes on top of either a Google Home or Amazon Alexa smart speaker and masks your words with white noise until you want to actually talk to your smart speaker, at which point you say the magic word you programmed into it to stop the white noise. It’s the smart speaker accessory for people who own smart speakers, but really don’t want to.
    • What you give up: An audio history of all your goofy questions for Alexa … or your children asking her to help with homework.
  • Here’s a fun idea next time you’re at a house party: Go up to an Echo speaker, and order its owner a 10-pound bucket of sea salt. Surprise! Anyone with access to your Echo speaker can order products on Amazon.
    • In the Alexa app on your phone, under Settings, scroll to Voice Purchasing, and turn it off — or at least put a voice code in place that your kids (or terrible friends) won’t guess.
    • What you give up: Super quick product ordering to feed your Prime addiction.

Your Amazon wishlist is public by default. Open your list, then under share list, find the manage list setting and change it to private. (Amazon)
  • Your Amazon “wish list” is open to the public by default. Yes, it’s nice to buy someone a gift — but if you don’t want to have your wishes open to everyone (you can search people by name at the link here) you may wish to change that:
    • Set your list to private by using this link, clicking on your wish list, then clicking on the three dots next to the share list, then tapping manage list, then changing Privacy to Private.
    • What you give up: surprise presents you actually want from people who don’t really know you well enough to just ask.
  • Amazon knows more than Santa about what you’d like for Christmas. It keeps a log of every Amazon product you look at, not just the ones you buy.
    • Stop Amazon from tracking you by clicking Browsing History on Amazon’s homepage and clicking View and Edit (or just use this link), then clicking on Manage history, and turning it Off.
    • What you give up: Personalized recommendations.


Windows 10 isn’t just an operating system used by 700 million devices: It’s a training school for Microsoft’s less-well-known A.I., Cortana.

  • When you set up Windows 10, it suggests turning on Cortana — which means letting Microsoft collect your location, contacts, voice, speech patterns, search queries, calendar, and messaging content.
    • If you don’t plan to use Cortana, decline it when you first set up your computer. Turning it off after the fact is much more complicated. There’s no single button, and some PCs put settings in different places. On most, you can open Cortana and click on its settings, then click on Permissions & History, and then individually turn off everything. Also turn off what’s listed under Manage the information Cortana can access from this device. Then go to Cortana, click on the Notebook icon, then click on your Microsoft account and log out.
    • That stops Cortana from collecting future data. To delete what it already knows, point your Web browser to your Microsoft Privacy settings page and click view and clear on various types of data it has collected. Also, go to the Cortana tab and tap Clear Cortana data.
    • What you give up: Microsoft’s talking virtual assistant.
  • Windows helps advertisers track your PC using an anonymous ID.
    • Go to Settings, then Privacy, then General, and turn off Let apps use advertising ID to make ads more interesting to you based on your app usage.
    • What you give up: More interesting ads.


Apple has a carefully-honed reputation for respecting privacy. But it still makes accommodations for online ad targeting — and you have to know where to look to stop it.

  • The iPhone shares an anonymous ID for advertisers to target you.
    • To stop it, go to your iPhone’s Settings, then Privacy then Advertising, and switch on Limit Ad Tracking.
    • This will affect Apple-made apps, ads served via Apple’s advertising system and apps that use the iPhone’s Advertising Identifier.
    • What you give up: You might get less relevant ads, and possibly some repeated ones.