Exercise (Some) Control over How Much Your Location Is Tracked

The New York Times recently published a bombshell article revealing just how completely our every movement is tracked by companies in the business of selling our locations to advertisers, marketers, and others. Anonymous sources provided the Times with a dataset from a single location-data company that contained 50 billion pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans over several months in 2016 and 2017. 

This data enabled the Times reporters to track numerous people in positions of power, including military officials, law-enforcement officers, and high-powered lawyers. They were able to watch as people visited the Playboy Mansion, some overnight, and they could see visitors to celebrity estates. Once they identified any particular phone, they could track it wherever it went. Imagine what that data could be used for in the wrong hands.

No one intends to let unknown companies track their locations constantly. But code built into smartphone apps does just that, often without our knowledge. Many of the apps that request access to location services have an entirely legitimate reason for doing so—for example, Google Maps can’t provide navigation directions unless it knows where you are. But others want location access for less practical reasons—do you really want to let a coffeeshop app know your location at every moment in exchange for the occasional free latte? And some apps—notably weather apps—may have a legitimate need for location information but use that data for far more than users expect.

Even if you’re not too perturbed about companies you’ve never heard of knowing your exact whereabouts at all times (mostly to serve you more targeted advertising), there’s no guarantee this data couldn’t fall into the hands of foreign governments, organized crime, or hackers willing to sell your movement patterns to an aggrieved employee, corporate spy, or jealous ex-lover.

Steps You Can Take to Protect Your Location Privacy

Luckily, Apple provides controls in iOS that let you limit your exposure. For most people, going completely dark isn’t realistic. Too many iPhone capabilities require location services, ranging from turn-by-turn directions, to geotagging photos, to using Find My to see if your kid has left the soccer tournament yet. 

Nevertheless, going dark is a possibility: go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services and disable the Location Services switch at the top. That turns off location services for all apps, although iOS will turn them back on temporarily if you use Find My iPhone to enable Lost Mode.

Here’s what we recommend instead.

  1. Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services and scroll down to see a list of every app on your iPhone that would like to know your location. (The same is true on the iPad, but fewer people use their iPads as much while out and about.)
  2. For each app in the list, tap the app’s name to bring up the Allow Location Access screen, which has up to four options:
    • Never: Prevent this app from ever determining your location.
    • Ask Next Time: The next time the app wants permission to track you, make it ask again.
    • While Using the App: Allow the app to track your location as long as you’re actually using it. 
    • Always: Let the app track your location at all times, even when you’re not using it.
  3. Tap one of the options to select it, and then tap Back to return to the list.

We can’t tell you exactly how to configure each app since everyone has a different set and different levels of privacy worry. However, here is some advice:

  • Apps and other entries from Apple are generally safe because Apple has an extremely strong privacy stance and excellent security against hacks. But, down in System Services at the bottom, we’d turn off Location-Based Apple Ads and Popular Near Me—even if Apple is collecting this data anonymously, it’s still being used to sell things to you, not to provide useful services to you.
  • For most apps, change the Allow Location Access setting to Ask Next Time to force each app to prompt you again. If it asks at a point where it’s reasonable that it would need to know your location, such as Yelp wanting to show you nearby restaurants, grant it. If you don’t understand why it’s asking, or if the request seems weak (“To show you which wines are available for purchase in your area.”), deny the request.
  • With apps that obviously need location services, such a parking app that needs to know which area you’re in, change the setting to While Using App and see if that meets your needs.
  • Only if you clearly need to allow a particular app to track your location in the background—turn-by-turn navigation apps are the most common—should you change that setting to Always. Almost no apps should be given such power, and many won’t even provide the option.

There’s one unusual item in the list: Safari Websites. It’s a master switch that lets Web sites loaded in Safari ask for your location. That’s probably not a major privacy concern, but few Web sites provide sufficiently useful location-based features (mostly for finding nearby chain store outlets) that it’s worth bothering.

In the end, go with your gut. If thinking about a particular app or company potentially recording your location constantly gives you the creeps, turn it off and either find an alternative or do without. Legislation may be the only solution in the end, but for now, we can take steps like these to protect ourselves.

(Featured image based on an original by Garik Barseghyan from Pixabay)

Microsoft Office for Mac Quick Start Guides

Microsoft Office Downloadable Guides – Mac version

Even though Apple’s iWork productivity suite is free and full featured.  many users still rely upon om Microsoft Office for their Business and School Applications. I recently ran across some handy Quick Start Guides for the Mac Versions of the Microsoft Office Suite that I wanted to share. These are great resources if you use office on a regular basis. Just click on the Image or link to download the guides.

 

Images and guides coutesty of Microsoft. Microsoft Office, Microsoft Excel , Microsoft Word, Microsoft Oultook, Microsoft OneNote, aand Microsoft PowerPoint are trademarks of Microsoft.

Be Careful the Trash Button in iOS 13’s Mail Is Where Reply Used to Be

For unknown reasons, Apple redesigned the toolbar in the iOS 13 version of Mail. Such things happen, but this time, Apple made a big mistake and moved Mail’s Trash button to where its Reply button used to be. Lots of people who have become accustomed to tapping Reply are now finding themselves deleting messages inadvertently, since a tap in the same location in iOS 13 deletes the message. It’s hard to retrain muscle memory—the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought—but if you find yourself deleting messages accidentally, you’ll need to slow down and remember to tap the new location of the Reply button.

(Featured image by Skitterphoto from Pexels)

Import Photos from a non-iPhone or Want to Keep Images out of Photos

Most Mac users rely on iPhones and iPads to take photos and store them in the Photos app, which happens automatically for those who use Apple’s iCloud Photos syncing service. But what if you want to import photos from a device other than an iPhone or iPad—say a Samsung smartphone running Android—and what if you don’t want those images in Photos? Turn to Apple’s Image Capture app, which has shipped with macOS for ages and is stored in your Applications folder’s Utilities folder. To use it, connect your device to your Mac via USB, launch Image Capture, and click the device in the sidebar. Choose a destination from the Import To pop-up menu, and then either select some photos and click Import or click the Import All button to get everything.

(Featured image modified slightly from an original by Al ghazali on Unsplash)

Make Sure to Test Your Backup System with Occasional Restores

Did you know that the word for the irrational fear of Friday the 13th is paraskevidekatriaphobia? Neither did we, but what that supposedly unlucky day is good for—whenever it rolls around—is reminding us to test our backup systems. If something does go wrong, backups can save your bacon, but only if they’re actually working. So on Friday the 13th this month, take a few minutes to make sure you can restore files from Time Machine, see if you can boot from your bootable duplicate, and generally verify that your data really is being backed up successfully. And if you’ve already missed the 13th, today is a fine day to make up for it with a quick test.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Did You Know You Can Drag the Scroll Bar in iOS 13?

In previous versions of iOS, a scroll bar would appear on the right edge of the screen while you were swiping through a long Web page, email message, or document. But the scroller was merely an indicator of where in the page you were and how much content there was (the bigger the scroller, the less content). In iOS 13 and iPadOS 13, however, Apple has made the scroll bar more helpful, and you’ll want to use it to scroll long pages more quickly than you can with swiping. To use the scroll bar, swipe slightly to make it appear, press and hold the scroller, and drag it to scroll. The only hard part is that it can be tricky to grab since it disappears a few seconds after you stop scrolling, and it’s a thin target to hit with a thick finger. But give it a try since it makes scrolling in long pages so much easier.

(Featured image background by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash)