Data Privacy Week Spotlight: Settings

This week is Data Privacy Week. To celebrate, this week I will be making a series of short blog posts highlighting tools, services, products, and techniques that I feel are underrated to help improve your privacy.

Today I want to highlight settings, specifically changing and checking them. There's nothing like a fresh device. It's what “new car smell” feels like. I love a freshly installed OS, and I love doing all the hardening steps. On Windows (which I use strictly for gaming and production), my usual routine is Windows Spy Blocker, W10 Privacy, Bulk Crap Uninstaller, and lately I've been delving into Portmaster. Then I move on to things like Firefox, VLC, etc. But as fun as these things are and as empowering as it feels to help take back control of my device and regain a little bit of privacy from invasive analytics, there's a less exciting step: settings. You see, many of us in the privacy community get a new device and we get eager to start customizing it and locking it down: firewalls, VPNs, encrypted messengers, etc. These are all great and important steps, but it's important not to overlook the simple steps. Whether on desktop or mobile, don't underestimate the value of changing your settings. Why do you think companies like Google pay millions of dollars each year to be the default browser in Firefox? Because settings matter. Most people don't bother to change the default settings, but simple changes – like changing your default search engine or video program, turning off analytics, or having the device lock after a minute of inactivity – can offer simple yet powerful protections to your privacy (and as a bonus, they can reduce your attack surface by not requiring you to use extra plugins or third-party software to replicate the same behavior). So as fun as it is to start going straight to all the hardcore, power-user tweaks, don't overlook the basics and review your default settings.

Unfortunately it doesn't stop there. It's a well-known phenomenon that sometimes updates can revert your settings back to default. In my opinion, this is probably usually a bug as it seems to only happen to certain people and programs inconsistently, though sometimes it is certainly intentional. In my experience, this usually seems most prevalent when doing major updates (for example, going from Version 14 to Version 15), but it can happen at any time. So even if you've already checked your settings and made your adjustments, be sure to review them periodically – particularly after an update if you know you've just had one. This is a great way to spot any new settings worth adjusting and catch any settings that were reverted.

Happy Data Privacy Week, hopefully this helps you protect your privacy just a little better!

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