Some users are prepared to change the way they use their computer in order to limit the impact on their privacy. Installing Linux and looking for open-source alternatives. Although all these tools can be very useful and easily used on a daily base, not everyone wants to dive into the sea of alternatives to the most widely used software and applications. A few minor adjustments can make a huge difference in the information that you get from the big companies when using your computer.
The correct settings in your operating system
Depending on which operating system you have, Windows or macOS, there are different settings that you can adjust to prevent data collection.
Windows does not allow for tracking
Cortana, Microsoftâ€™s assistant on Windows 10, is always present. Uninstalling it can be a good option. The manipulation can be tricky. Tom’s Guide has published a guide to Windows 10, which explains all the steps. If you don’t want Cortana to be disabled by default, switching to Windows 11 is the best option.
Limit Microsoft’s data collection on your computer is the second thing you should do. The easiest way to disable Microsoft accounts on Windows is to not use them. Although Microsoft is increasingly prohibiting this step, you can still create a local account by logging off the Internet before installing Windows.
You can also disable all the options for Microsoft to receive data about your device. You can either do it manually or download specialized software. BleepingComputer recommends O Shutup10 or Privatezilla. You should be aware of the potential dangers of downloading any external programs. Before making any changes, make sure you have a backup of your system.
Access the privacy dashboard to see the Microsoft data about you. You can access it easily by clicking on the “Privacy Settings”, scrolling down until the “General” tab, then clicking on the “Privacy Dashboard”. You will be taken to a web page where you can manage your activity data. You will be able download it, delete and see which apps and services have it.
Mac Limit tracking
Apple offers several guides on how to use its anti tracking features. One of the guides is particularly useful for this purpose. It is the iCloud Private Relay available to iCloud+ subscribers. It works in the same way as Tor relays, but it is a “lighter” version.
Apple controls the first relay that you use to request a site visit. This relay can see your IP address but not the address of the site. This relay only transmits the encrypted destination information to the second relay. It is controlled by a third party partner. This partner decrypts it and assigns a temporary IP address to the user. The visited site and the second relay do not have access your real IP address. This feature is currently only compatible in Safari and is not intended to replace a VPN.
Software and Permissions
Uninstall any unnecessary built-in applications
Many pre-installed programs are unnecessary for most users of Windows. While most of these apps are not harmful, it is important to limit the possibility of tracking. Microsoft now allows you to delete some of these applications as easily as other software.
You can download tools such as Bloatbox or Windows10Debloater to speed up the process. However, you must be careful and make a backup before using them. It is difficult to know which applications should be removed if you purchased a computer directly from the manufacturer. The What Should I Do? You can enter the name of a program to determine its purpose. It also lists software by manufacturer and provides detailed instructions on how they can be uninstalled.
On Mac, you can uninstall some programs by moving them into the Trash. However, you won’t be allowed to do this with some applications that are installed by default. They are essential for the operation and maintenance of the operating system. You can get rid of them but it could cause problems with updating your operating system and make it less reliable.
Permissions for a computer
We’ve described in our Anti-Tracking Guide for Smartphones, PC and Mac how it is possible to verify permissions and determine with which other applications they can communicate.
The operation is performed on Mac in the “Privacy and Securityâ€ť menu. This can be checked in the Privacy Settings menu on Windows. All permissions (Calendar, Messages, etc.) All permissions (Calendar, Messages, etc.) are listed and you can see which application has access to them. You can also check the list on your smartphone to see if you really need to download the app of your favorite streaming service.
The Internet needs the right settings
Browsers and their settings
It was already discussed in our article about the best settings for smartphones. However, it is equally important to choose the right browser for your computer. Windows users will see Edge as the default browser, while Apple uses Safari. Both browsers offer protection against tracking. Edge allows you to adjust the level of protection that you want. Safari also has an option to warn you if another site is tracking your activity. This protection includes protection against fingerprinting. It also presents websites with simplified data about you system.
Edge can track your computer’s activities if you use it on a Windows computer. You might want to consider another browser. There are many choices. Firefox is the most popular browser, with advanced protection against tracking. Brave, which is controversial due to its inclusion of Web 3.0-related functions and Brendan Eich’s founder, remains the most recommended. The Tor browser is not included in this list as it is not designed for daily use.
No matter what browser you use, you will need to change the settings to protect your privacy from tracking. CNET recently published a guide that summarizes all the options available for this purpose.
Tracking promotional email
Trackers are included in marketing mails to ensure that they are effective. They are embedded in the images. When the email is opened, they retrieve and send several pieces information, including the date and time of opening, type of device and its operating systems, the user’s address and his geographical location. You can block images loading by default with most email providers to avoid this, but not completely.
On Gmail for example, the option can be found in the Advanced Settings -> General -> Ask for confirmation before displaying external images. Apple users can block remote content by activating the Privacy option in the Mail application for Mac. Thunderbird is a software that blocks remote content automatically, so you don’t have to go through all the settings for each email service on each device.
Google and social networks can be used to delete information
It’s not a secret that social media networks like Facebook and Google follow us from site-to-site in order to gather information about our preferences for advertising purposes. This phenomenon is amplified when one of our accounts connects to a third-party site or uses the sharing buttons.
You can modify some settings to limit the information you retrieve, in addition to the protections provided by certain browsers. You can limit the information that the company retrieves from you Facebook account. This option is available since 2019.
Google allows you to check which information is public in your account and what data Google has retrieved about you online activity, as well as your geographic location. Cnet explains that you can also delete them.
Make sure you have the right tools
Many browser extensions can be used to limit tracking. But be careful, there are many browser extensions that can limit tracking. However, you may become more easily identifiable, and thus tracked, if you have too many.
Websites use your extensions to identify you. The more extensions you have installed, the more likely it becomes that the combination is unique to your use. We can recommend some of these extensions:
- uBlock Origin is the best ad blocker.
- Privacy Badger: This extension was created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation to block trackers when we are on multiple sites and prevent them loading additional content in our browser.
- Ghostery: Blocks both trackers and ads. The extension now has a “Never Consentâ€ť option that automatically denies cookies from compatible websites.
Search engines and secure messaging
This was already discussed in our article on smartphones. However, one of the best ways for you to avoid being tracked is to use privacy-friendly services.
Search engines and mail services are a good place to start. There are many email services that offer security and ease-of-use. These services are not free, unlike Gmail. Their business model is not based upon advertising, unlike other providers. They ask for a contribution from users to ensure quality service.
We also mentioned Brave Search as well as DuckDuckGo when it comes to search engines. Accepting that some results might not be as relevant to your search as Google’s can be difficult. In return, the net giant won’t be able to track your movements as easily.
Other alternatives to Gafam
It is impossible to prevent all tracking from a phone or computer. It is impossible to completely block it, and we have only touched the surface.
If you are truly interested in the subject, there are many alternatives to Gafam. These are more respectful of privacy. They are becoming more accessible and easier to use. Linux, cloud storage – the possibilities are almost endless and fascinating to explore.