Protect your privacy from data collectors by changing some settings

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

We can turn off location tracking in phone apps only to find new apps to track us next time we check. We can turn off personalized ads and still be bombarded by marketers who ignore our wishes. We can be fooled by language designed to protect companies’ access to data rather than our privacy.

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

As individuals, we have limited ability to stop snooping. Meaningful action usually has to come from regulators and legislators. 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 telling 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.

Set location tracking limits

You may think that how often you visit a liquor store, hit the gym, or attend a church service is up to you. But many companies collect and use such data for marketing and other purposes. You can throw a wrench into this relentless location tracking change some settings on your devices.

On iPhones and iPads, go to “Settings” and then “Privacy” to find “Location Services”. On Android devices, go to “Settings” and then “Location” to find “App Location Permissions”. Don’t worry about “breaking” an app by limiting 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 makes it easy to turn that back on, says Germain.

Check these settings regularly across all your devices and delete any apps you don’t use. The fewer apps you have, the fewer opportunities companies have to hoover and sell your data, Sullivan notes.

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Close other data collections

If you use Google GOOGL,
App or service, your location history may be saved and used even after you turn off location. Your searches and other activities are also saved. So consider disabling Google’s ability to store this data, says Germain.

To do this, open in a browser, log into your account and click your icon in the top right corner. Select “Manage your Google Account” and then “Privacy & Personalization”. Under “Your data and privacy choices”, select “Things to do and places visited”. You’ll see options to review the information Google is storing about you, as well as ways to opt out of data storage and delete saved histories.

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

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

Another setting on this page that you can opt out of: personalized advertising. Google tries to make tailored ads sound the way you want or need them to sound; it probably isn’t.

Your devices have similar options. With Apple AAPL,
On iPhones and iPads, turn off “Allow apps to request tracking” in the Tracking section of Privacy Settings. For Android devices, under “Ads” in the “Advanced” section of the privacy settings, click “Delete advertising ID”. Shutting down ad personalization won’t completely stop advertisers from stalking you, but it should reduce the number of companies who have your data, says Germain.

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

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

Related: Apple’s Cook on privacy: “a data industrial complex built on surveillance”

to take further steps

An easy way to reduce data mining is to switch to browsers that are designed for privacy, like Firefox or Brave, suggests Germain.

Also try to slow down. Many websites and apps ask you to make privacy decisions on the fly, so it’s easy to click in the wrong place in your hurry to get rid of the pop-up screen.

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

Check if you have other options, such as Online Privacy Service Discover is rolling out for debit and credit card holders.

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

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

More from NerdWallet

Liz Weston, CFP® writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @lizweston. Protect your privacy from data collectors by changing some settings

Brian Lowry

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