Liz Weston: Tweak your tech settings to protect your privacy

Apr 24, 2022, 4:00 PM | Updated: Apr 25, 2022, 5:53 am
FILE - This undated file photo provided by NerdWallet shows Liz Weston, a columnist for personal fi...

FILE - This undated file photo provided by NerdWallet shows Liz Weston, a columnist for personal finance website Much of your personal data is likely being tracked and sold, including your location and online activity. This information helps marketers target you and may leave you vulnerable to scams. While the most effective protections must come from lawmakers and regulators, you can up-level your privacy with just a few taps or clicks. In the privacy settings of your phone and other devices, check which apps are tracking your location. Disable or limit those apps’ monitoring permissions. And on iPhones, iPads and in your Google account, turn off ad personalization. As you browse online, avoid agreeing to privacy permissions that appear in pop-up boxes. (NerdWallet via AP, File)

(NerdWallet via AP, File)

So much of our sensitive personal data is being tracked and sold that trying to protect our privacy can seem like a pointless exercise.

We can disable the location tracking on phone apps only to find new apps stalking us the next time we check. We can turn off personalized advertising and still get bombarded by marketers that ignore our wishes. We can be fooled by language that’s designed to protect companies’ access to data rather than our privacy.

All this surveillance allows advertisers to manipulate us into spending more. People who are struggling financially can be targeted by predatory lenders and other seedy companies. If there’s a database breach, criminals can buy our information for just a few dollars and use it to impersonate or target us for various scams.

As individuals, we have limited ability to stop the prying. Meaningful action typically must come from regulators and lawmakers. But we can take a few steps to reclaim small but significant chunks of privacy and send a signal to companies that we don’t like what they’re up to.

“It’s a way of making a statement to a company that you’re not going along with what they’re doing,” says independent journalist Bob Sullivan, a consumer privacy advocate and author of “Gotcha Capitalism.”


You may think it’s your own business how often you visit a liquor store, go to the gym or attend a religious service. But many companies are in the business of gleaning and using such data for marketing and other purposes. You can throw a wrench into this relentless location tracking by changing a few settings on your devices.

On iPhones and iPads, go to “Settings,” then “Privacy” to find “Location Services.” With Android devices, go to “Settings,” then “Location” to find “App location permissions.” Don’t worry that you’ll “break” an app by reducing or eliminating its ability to track you, says Thomas Germain, a technology and privacy writer at Consumer Reports. If you want to do something with the app that requires your location, the app will make it easy to turn that back on, Germain says.

Regularly check these settings on all your devices, and delete any app you’re not using. The fewer apps you have, the fewer opportunities companies have to suck up and sell your data, Sullivan notes.


If you use any Google app or service, your location history could be stored and used even after you’ve shut off tracking. Your searches and other activity are being stored as well, so consider shutting off Google’s ability to keep that data, Germain says.

To do that, open in a browser, log into your account and click on your icon in the upper right corner. Select “Manage your Google account,” then “Privacy & personalization.” Under “Your data & privacy options,” choose “Things you’ve done and places you’ve been.” You’ll see options to review the information Google is storing about you, as well as ways to turn off data storage and delete stored histories.

Some of Google’s apps may not work as well without this data, but you can always turn these functions back on, Germain says.

“I think it’s something that people should experiment with turning off and seeing if the trade-offs are worth it,” he says.

Another setting on this page you can toggle off: ad personalization. Google tries to make tailor-made advertising sound like something you should want or need; it’s probably not.

Your devices have similar options. With iPhones and iPads, switch off “allow apps to request to track” in the “Tracking” portion of privacy settings. With Android devices, click “delete advertising ID” under “Ads”in the “Advanced” portion of privacy settings. Shutting down ad personalization won’t entirely prevent advertisers from stalking you, but it should cut down on the number of companies that have your data, Germain says.

If you have an iPhone or iPad, a feature in the iOS 15 operating software update called the “App Privacy Report ” can show how you’re being profiled and tracked, suggests Emory Roane, policy counsel at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

“Turn that on, leave it running for a week or two, and then it’ll tell you a very detailed list of which apps are doing what,” Roane says. “It’s a great, great resource for iOS users.”


An easy way to cut down on data mining is to switch to browsers built with privacy in mind, such as Firefox or Brave , Germain suggests.

Also, try to slow down. Many sites and apps ask you to make privacy decisions on the fly, making it easy to click on the wrong spot in your rush to get rid of the pop-up screen.

“All it takes is that one incorrect answer, and suddenly, you’ve given all these permissions,” Sullivan says.

Finally, if you care about privacy, let your lawmakers know. Consumers are “woefully ill equipped” to fight all the ways our data is being mined and used, Roane says.

“The real ‘quick tip’ is that you need to call your representative and tell them to support stronger privacy laws,” he says.


This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: Twitter: @lizweston.


NerdWallet: Identity theft: what it is, how to prevent it, warning signs and tips

Consumer Reports: 30-Second privacy fixes: simple ways to protect your data

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Much of drought-plagued West Coast faces salmon fishing ban

The surreal and desperate scramble boosted the survival rate of the hatchery-raised fish, but still it was not enough to reverse the declining stocks in the face of added challenges.
1 day ago
UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr. (24) shoots while defended by Gonzaga's Rasir Bolton (45) in the first half...
Associated Press

Gonzaga beats UCLA 79-76 in Sweet 16 on Strawther’s shot

Julian Strawther hit a 3-pointer with 6 seconds left to answer a 3-pointer by UCLA's Amari Bailey, lifting Gonzaga to a wild 79-76 NCAA Tournament win over UCLA Thursday night in the Sweet 16.
1 day ago
Associated Press

Officials: Safety device, human error derailed Wash. train

A safety device failed, knocking a train off the tracks last week, spilling diesel after leaving an oil refinery in Anacortes.
1 day ago
File - Credit cards as seen July 1, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. A low credit score can hurt your ability...
Associated Press

What the Fed rate increase means for your credit card bill

The Federal Reserve raised its key rate by another quarter point Wednesday, bringing it to the highest level in 15 years as part of an ongoing effort to ease inflation by making borrowing more expensive.
2 days ago
police lights distracted drivers shooting...
Associated Press

Authorities: Missing mom, daughter in Washington found dead

A missing Washington state woman and her daughter were found dead Wednesday, according to police.
2 days ago
Associated Press

Google’s artificially intelligent ‘Bard’ set for next stage

Google announced Tuesday it's allowing more people to interact with “ Bard,” the artificially intelligent chatbot the company is building to counter Microsoft's early lead in a pivotal battleground of technology.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.
SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Liz Weston: Tweak your tech settings to protect your privacy