Stop OS X leaking your personal information

Privacy on computers and the internet is a hot topic and there seems to be no end to the ways in which your personal information can be accessed by third parties. The Apple Mac is not immunue to privacy issues and you may be surprised to learn that by default, it passes on personal information. It must be configured not to if you prefer to maintain your privacy.

An example of the way in which your Mac passes on information about you can be found in Spotlight. Go to the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen and select System Preferences. Open Spotlight and click the ? (help) button in the bottom right corner.

This displays Spotlight help and if you explore that, here is what Apple has to say about Spotlight:

When you use Spotlight, your search queries, the Spotlight Suggestions you select, and related usage data will be sent to Apple . . . If you have Location Services on your Mac turned on, when you make a search query to Spotlight the location of your Mac at that time will be sent to Apple. Searches for common words and phrases will be forwarded from Apple to Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

So every time you use Spotlight to search for something, information is sent to Apple and Apple shares it with Microsoft. Do you really want that?

Some people are OK with this, but others are not. If you prefer not to share your Spotlight searches and location, open Spotlight in System Preferences and clear the ticks against Spotlight Suggestions and Mail and Messages.

OS X Spotlight

Scroll down the list and also clear the tick against Bing Web Searches.

Spotlight on OS X

You will no longer see web results in Spotlight searches. When you want to search the web, just open a browser and search, preferably duckduckgo.com as it is more private.

Location services also need to be configured, so open Security and Privacy in System Preferences and select the Privacy tab. Click the Details button next to System Services.

OS X location services

There is a tick box to allow Spotlight to determine your location. Clear it.

Spotlight location settings

This does not affect web searches in a browser, so you can still find local information. It just stops Spotlight using and sharing your location.

Mail privacy issues

There is a similar issue with Mail and you could be revealing more about you than you think, just by reading an email. Images in email messages reveal a lot of information about you, including your IP address, possibly your location, operating system, and more. The images do not even have to be visible and invisible transparent one pixel .gif images can be used. You will never know that someone is tracking you.

There are legitimate reasons why someone might want to track you and a company taking part in an email campaign would want to know how many emails were actually read. However, a hacker could send you an email and then gain information about you that could help them.

To stop this from happening, go to the Mail Menu and select Preferences. Select the Viewing tab and clear the tick against Load remote content in messages.

OS X Mail preferences

This will prevent Mail from fetching images that are located on remote servers, which prevents tracking. If you open an email that contains remote images, a message appears at the top.

OS X Mail

You can see that there is only text in this email and the images and other remote content are not loaded. If you want to see the missing content, click the Load Remote Content button at the top.

OS X Mail

Do these privacy issues worry you? Were you aware of them? Please leave a comment.

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