Privacy / Security

10 ways Mac users can avoid privacy risks in the age of big data

Big data has become one of the most hyped terms in the world of technology lately. Whether justified or not, it is definitely a double-edged sword. It provides hackers with personal information of millions of people (as it has been proved by a recent Equifax data breach) and contributes to fighting malware; it can literally save people’s lives when used in healthcare and crime prevention and has a destructive potential at the same time.

As a Mac user, you know that Apple collects your personal data such as name, email, mailing address, phone number and credit card number. It is also stated in the company’s Privacy Policy that “at times Apple may make certain personal information available to strategic partners that work with Apple to provide products and services, or that help Apple market to customers.” It is hardly a rare occasion and only the tip of the iceberg. Many websites and apps also strive to take credit for your personal data, and your Mac’s core software cannot protect you from them.

With that in mind, while we may be lucky not to become a victim of a data breach, we are all used in some sort as biomass for marketing purposes. Plenty of websites and apps collect our personal information every day and it is hard to completely avoid it. However, you can still take measures to protect your privacy online without abandoning the Internet or becoming an elusive hacker.

1. Disable Suggestions in Spotlight Search

Spotlight can transfer your private information to Apple. If you do not like it to be disposed by the company at its discretion, you can turn Spotlight suggestions off. Go to the System Preferences, click on Spotlight and deselect Spotlight Suggestions.

2. Check your Security & Privacy settings

Some apps you have installed on your computer report about your physical location. You can find them in System Preferences by clicking on the Privacy tab and choosing Location Services. Then you can disable this feature either completely or for individual apps.

In addition, you can control what apps can access data stored in the core macOS apps like Contacts, Calendar, and Reminders. Add your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other accounts’ details to the Internet Accounts System Preferences pane, and you will be able to control which apps have access to them.

3. Make your browser more secure

In case you do not want to replace Safari with another browser, you can stop it from sharing your search queries with Apple. Go to Safari, then click on Preferences > Search, and disable “Include Spotlight Suggestions.”

You probably know, there is so called Private Mode in Safari. It turns out many people overestimate its possibilities in terms of their privacy. According to DuckDuckGo, 67% of people who use private browsing think that it protects them online, while it does nothing to stop websites from recording your IP address and information you enter. It only does not save your browsing history and local search on your computer.

Actually, you can use Safari’s privacy settings. The Apple’s browser allows you to specify if and how websites you visit store cookies and other data on your Mac. You can choose if you’d like cookies to be always blocked, allowed from certain websites, allowed from websites you visit, or always allowed by clicking on Privacy tab in Preferences. There you can also set up the use of location services by websites and website tracking. However, if you want your protection to be stronger and more customizable, consider using other browsers. For example, it can be Mozilla Firefox, with a Private Browsing option that really works. It has Tracking Protection feature that automatically blocks websites’ attempts to track you when enabled. Alternatively, you can try Opera, which has become the world’s first VPN-embedded browser. In case you want to feel even more protected and anonymous, Tor browser may be a good choice for you.

4. Install anti-tracking and anti-cookie extensions

Such browser extensions have become quite popular recently, and at the very least, you have heard about Disconnect, Adblock Plus, or Ghostery, the most popular ones. They play by the rules of websites’ invisible trackers making you invisible for the latter.

There are quite a lot of anti-tracking and anti-cookie extensions available for different browsers, so you can choose the one that suits you the most. If you do not want to dig through the options much, consider Privacy Badger. The creators claim it automatically analyzes and blocks any tracker or ad that violated the principle of user consent. Moreover, it does its job without requiring any settings, knowledge, or configuration from a user.

5. Use VPN software

There are several reasons for you to use VPN software. A Virtual Private Network technology will encrypt all data from your Mac, so you can leave less digital footprints online. It will hide your IP address, so websites cannot see your location.
Here is a list of the best VPNs for your Mac.

6. Unlink your accounts

Have you noticed how many websites offer you to link your accounts? And while it may seem easier to register and log in through Google or Facebook, it creates more risk. If one of your accounts is hacked, your other accounts will also automatically become vulnerable. The same applied to your Google accounts if you have several of them. You’d better not be logged in to all of them at the same time.

7. Delete suspicious apps

Apps you have installed on your Mac may collect your data and it’s a known fact. While paid ones are more likely to inform you about it, freeware apps often do not bother making things clear for you. Besides, you may get additional software you were not intended to download that can also steal your personal data without your knowledge. Why would you keep this junk on your computer? It is so much better to spend some time on getting rid of it. You can use special software for it if you do not know how to delete suspicious apps on your Mac completely, since the latter may leave unwanted files after uninstallation.

8. Consider using alternative search engines

Alternative search engines in the Google era when the very word “google” has become a synonym for “search”? Yes, exactly, and we are not speaking about Yahoo or Bing. There are search engines that allow you to look for information without collecting your personal data.

For instance, you can use searX, an open source metasearch engine, which aggregates the results of other search engines while not storing information about its users and not showing ads. There are also StartPage that provides you with Google search results with complete privacy protection and DuckDuckGo that does not collect personal information and displays ads based only on a search term your enter.

If you cannot avoid using Google as a search engine, you can still minimize the amount of your data collected by it. You have just to log out from your Google account, while searching or watching videos on YouTube.

9. Use secure e-mail providers

Since mainstream e-mail providers cannot ensure the security of information you send or receive, consider using more secure ones. They are not interested in tracking you. Of course, replacing your e-mail with another one may not be that convenient. If it is your case, think about e-mail encryption with special software such as PGP. You have probably seen that Apple provides macOS High Sierra users with this feature, however, it is better to use a third-party software in this case, since your privacy is not Apple’s priority as we have already seen.

10. Be more conscious on social media

Today people overshare on social media being unaware of their shortsightedness. They just put their personal information into these big data aggregators and think that it is ok. However, becoming guinea pigs for businesses, or being manipulated by politicians is probably not something they would consider normal. If you are one of them and still need more reasons to become more conscious on social media, it could be interesting for you to learn there is already a technology, which makes possible for anyone to find your profile just with one photo taken on a smartphone.

Actually, there are alternatives for mainstream social media, such as Diaspora, a decentralized platform, which cannot be controlled by one company. However, they will hardly take a user base from Facebook or Twitter. So, for now, you just need to be more careful and think twice before posting something online. Remember that it is very difficult to delete information once it appeared online (although there are some tools for that).

Protecting your privacy is something you have to take care for yourself. Spend some time on learning about how you can prevent websites and apps from collecting your data and always question yourself about possible consequences of your actions.

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