Change the Privacy Settings on Your Mac

Mac laptop with big lock

The Mac line of computers are some of the finest on the market today. Both in raw specs and efficiency a Mac is hard to beat. Apple is also strongly committed to making privacy features transparent to the user. Many users fail to realize the importance of taking the time to adjust their privacy features, which leaves them vulnerable to exposing personal information online. In only a few minutes, you can adjust your Mac’s privacy settings to secure your data.

Privacy on Mac

Mac has long had a reputation for security and privacy. User privacy has been a priority to Apple for years. Unfortunately, in the past year, there have been some public stumbles. While Apple remains publicly committed to security and privacy, some large mistakes have come to light, especially with the release of the High Sierra update for Mac. A particularly troublesome bug emerged in September of 2017 that allowed users to gain root access by typing ‘root’. This would allow almost unlimited access to all data on an affected Mac.

While Apple has patched the bugs quickly, at times even the patch has been plagued by bugs. This leaves many users wondering if there aren’t still other vulnerabilities lurking on their Macs. Changing your privacy settings can help ensure your data isn’t compromised in the event of new bugs surfacing.

Keep Hackers Out

HackerFirewall protection is a standard feature needed on all computers connected to the internet. Mac comes with a firewall built into the computer, but this feature is not always turned on by default. One of the first things you should do to protect your Mac is to ensure your firewall is enabled.

Open the System Preferences and click on ‘Security & Privacy.’ Here you will find several settings to adjust to help protect your Mac. Click on the padlock on the bottom left of the dialogue box and enter your user name and password to enable access to these settings.

Click on the ‘Firewall’ tab to pull up the Firewall settings. Now click on ‘Turn On Firewall.’ You can also adjust the Firewall settings by clicking on the Firewall Options button. Here you can change which apps and services can send or receive data through the Firewall. This can be useful if you want to largely block all apps except for one or two..

Encrypt Your Data

No matter how well you secure your system, there is still the possibility that a determined hacker could gain access to your data. While encrypting your files may cause you some inconvenience, it is important. The FileVault ensures that your data is unreadable even when it is stolen.

FileVault secures your information by encrypting all the files on your Mac. This takes some time for the encryption routine to run when you first enable it. There is also the inconvenience of having to enter your password any time you want to open a file. However, this is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes from knowing your data is secure.

In the ‘Security & Privacy’ screen, click on the FileVault tab. Click the button labeled, ‘Turn On FileVault…’ to start the process. You will be given a recovery key. You must use either the recovery key or your account password to unlock the files on your computer. If you forget both of these, you will lose all access to those files.

Check Your App Permissions

Apps need permission to access critical services on your Mac. Sometimes, though, these apps can access information that isn’t strictly needed for the app to do its job. In the privacy settings, you can choose what apps have access to what information.

From the ‘Security & Privacy’ screen, click the ‘Privacy’ tab. One of the most important decisions you can make to safeguard your privacy is to restrict access to your location, both GPS and wi-fi location tracking. While other sources of information rely on how you access the internet or use the Mac itself, location services can tell app makers a lot about who you are and what you do offline.

Click on ‘Location Services’ in the left pane. This will bring up a list of all the apps on your Mac that can access your location. Uncheck each app that you don’t want to allow access to your location data.

In a similar manner, you can restrict which apps have access to your contact information, your calendar, and your reminders. Simply uncheck each app in the appropriate category to take back control of your privacy.

Is Siri Listening to You?

Siri logoThere is a joke among privacy experts that goes, ‘Americans used to worry about the government bugging their phones and houses, now they pay Apple to do it for them.’ While Apple maintains the data collected by Siri is secure, it is true that Siri is listening to every conversation to pick up keywords directed to it. Siri can also read emails and private messages as well as the contents of your documents. This information is often stored and analyzed to improve services. If you are concerned about Siri’s ability to listen in on you through your Mac, you should disable it.

From the System Preferences screen, click on the Siri icon. Directly under the Siri logo on the Siri screen, you can uncheck ‘Enable Siri’ to disable the service from your Mac.

Staying Anonymous in a Connected World

As more of our information becomes available to advertisers and others online, keeping personal information private becomes more of a challenge. Using a VPN is one of the simplest steps you can take to ensure your privacy is protected today. Since most of us connect our Macs to our routers, you may want to configure your router for privacy too.

When you connect using a quality VPN service, your data is encrypted as it travels to and from the VPN server. Your traffic travels through the VPN server and is encrypted. This middleman approach means that you remain anonymous in the information exchange. You may notice the ads you see while online are no longer quite as personalized as before. This is a result of advertisers having no way to connect your online activities to your IP address.

There are many benefits to using a VPN beyond just privacy. To learn more about how a VPN may help you, read our post on choosing the best VPN for your needs.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.