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Hands off my data! 15 default privacy settings you should change right now.

Say no to defaults. A clickable guide to fixing the complicated privacy settings from Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple.

June 1, 2018 at 12:59 PM

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The Post's Geoffrey A. Fowler explains all the things companies can get from you if you use their default privacy settings. See how to change them here: (Jhaan Elker, David Jorgenson, Geoffrey Fowler/The Washington Post)

On the Internet, the devil’s in the defaults.

You’re not reading all those updated data policies flooding your inbox. You probably haven’t even looked for your privacy settings. And that’s exactly what Facebook, Google and other tech giants are counting on.

They tout we’re “in control” of our personal data, but they know most of us won’t change the settings that let them grab it like cash in a game show wind machine. Call it the Rule of Defaults: 95 percent of people are too busy, or too confused, to change a darn thing.

Give me 15 minutes, and I can help you join the 5 percent who are actually in control. I dug through the privacy settings for the five biggest consumer tech companies and picked a few of the most egregious defaults you should consider changing. These links will take you directly to what to tap, click and toggle for Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple.

Related: [15 more default privacy settings you should change on your TV, cellphone plan, LinkedIn and more]

Some of their defaults are just bonkers. Google has been saving a map of everywhere you go, if you turned on its Assistant when you set up an Android phone. 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 it 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.

My inspiration for poring over the fine print was the European General Data Protection Act, or GDPR, that recently went into effect and prompted all those privacy policy emails. I asked the largest tech companies what they had changed — other than their legalese — about default settings or the amount of data they collect on us. The shocking answer: almost nothing. (Facebook is also rolling out new privacy controls but not actually changing your options … or even taking away many clicks.)

My suggestions are small acts of resistance — there are further settings, privacy-minded apps and Web browser add-ons that could take you on a deeper dive. (I’d love to hear what else has worked well for you.) Changing the defaults I list here means you’ll get less personalization from some services and might see some repeated ads. But these changes can curtail some of the creepy advertising fueled by your data and, in some cases, stop these giant companies from collecting so much data about you in the first place. And that’s a good place to start.

In the weeks ahead, Facebook will pop up in your News Feed with a call to review some settings. It won’t change your defaults — but it’s a good reminder you should change them by tapping manage data settings. (Facebook/)


Like skinny jeans, Facebook makes you share more than perhaps you ought to. It’s time to take a hard look at what you’re putting out there.

(Note: 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.)

Turn off these three settings that let Facebook advertisers use even more data to target you. (Facebook/)

Don’t give it all away to Facebook advertisers, either. Reminder: Each member in North America was worth $82 in advertising to Facebook in 2017.


By default, Google's keeping a list of everything you search for — and every website you visit. Turn that off under Activity controls. (Google/)

Google is the giant black hole of the tech world, sucking up as much personal data as it can get away with.

While you’re at it, you can stop oversharing with Google’s advertisers.


Amazon has grown from a bookstore to an everything store — to the maker of devices that listen and watch what’s happening around the house. (Amazon CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post, but I review all tech with the same critical eye.)

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/)
Your Amazon wish list is public by default. Open your list, then under share list, find the manage list setting and change it to private. (Amazon/)


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.


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.

Read more tech advice and analysis from Geoffrey A. Fowler:

Here's what you need to know about the new Gmail

Why you cannot quit Amazon Prime — even if maybe you should

Google wants to cure your smartphone addiction

Geoffrey A. Fowler is The Washington Post’s technology columnist based in San Francisco. He joined The Post in 2017 after 16 years with the Wall Street Journal writing about consumer technology, Silicon Valley, national affairs and China.

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