How To Change Your Privacy Settings for a Safer Online Experience

If you haven’t checked your privacy settings, you could be exposing more data than you would like. Here’s how to update your settings to stay safe.
Patti Croft, Author
Catherine McNally, Editor
Last updated Jul 22, 2022

Have you checked your online privacy settings lately? Do you know what data your operating system or mobile apps collect? You may not know what information gets saved regarding your internet searches.

You may not realize that your data can get stored indefinitely and used by different companies. Some companies sell the data they track to other businesses that want to know about your internet searches.

Your personal information is like financial currency. It has enormous value for those who need it.

Companies like to know your buying habits so they can send you ads geared toward those habits. The government can even track your browsing data to look for certain online behavior. Hackers want to see your history to possibly steal your financial data.

That’s why you should put some thought into who gets access to that information. Most big tech companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple have recorded personal data. Keep reading our guide to learn what privacy settings you may want to change to limit who has access to your data and how you can do it.

In this article
How to change Google privacy settings
How to change your Microsoft privacy settings
How to change your iOS and macOS privacy settings
Privacy settings FAQs
Bottom line

How to change Google privacy settings

If you aren’t familiar with the privacy settings you can change in your Google account, you may be surprised to learn what gets saved. Fortunately, in most cases, you can control how much data you allow Google to track.

You can update your settings to stop tracking web searches and app activity, and you can delete your search history. You can also delete cookies in your Chrome web browser, which may fix formatting or page loading issues.

Another setting that you may forget to adjust is your location history. When this setting is left turned on, anywhere you travel with your device can get shared with Google.

If you want to change your Google privacy settings and delete any saved data, you can do so by following some simple steps.

How to change what data Google saves

If you’re suddenly thinking about all the searches you’ve made in the past few days, you may not want Google saving the information. Our internet use should be as safe and private as our homes.

Maybe you don't want Google saving your YouTube history. Would you be okay with your voice activity and location getting saved by Google? How about personalized ads from your recent web browsing? If none of these sound like pieces of data you want to share, you can make some updates to delete that data.

You can use the Google Activity Controls and the Google Data & Privacy center for these updates.

  1. Go to the Google Activity Controls page.
  2. Make sure the boxes next to "Include voice and audio activity" and "Include Chrome history and activity from sites, apps, and devices that use Google services" are unchecked.
  3. Scroll down to "YouTube History." You can stop sharing your YouTube history by clicking on the "Turn off" button.
  4. Under the YouTube Subsettings, you can also uncheck the boxes for "Include the YouTube videos you watch" and "Include your searches on YouTube."
  5. On this same page, you can also click the "Turn off Location history" button and "Web & App Activity" button. Be sure to check your Ad personalization settings as well (this opens a new page).
  6. Now go to the Google Data & Privacy page.
  7. Scroll through the settings and click "Pause" on anything you don’t want Google to track.

A screenshot of the Google Activity Controls page in dark mode. Web & App Activity are turned off, as are Chrome history and voice and audio activity.

Double-check all your settings As a recommendation, you may want to turn off all tracking settings and pause all privacy options for optimal security. If you don't want your data tracked, going through all these settings is the best way to prevent it.

How to find and delete your saved Google activity

When you want to make adjustments to your activity data settings, you can make changes any time by going to the Google Activity Controls or Data & Privacy settings. Here, you can set your data up to auto-delete if you don’t want to worry about checking your history often or just want to simplify the process.

You can see what activity data Google saves and what you want to turn off with a few simple steps.

  1. Go to your Google Activity Controls page. This page displays how Google is automatically set to save your browsing data, app activity, location, and more.
  2. Check the bottom of each section to see all the activity Google saved and delete it.
  3. Review the selections in each section and decide if you want any of the settings changed.
  4. Go to the Google Data & Privacy center. Here you’ll see a list of settings that displays what you have paused and settings that are still active.
  5. Remember to check each section carefully and pause anything you don’t want tracked.

A screenshot of the Google Data & privacy settings page that shows the option to take a privacy checkup, history settings, and other privacy settings.

Auto-delete your Google activity 

When you want to set your Google activity to auto-delete, you can go the Data & privacy section of your Google Account:

Under the History settings, click on "Web & App Activity," "Location History," and "YouTube History," then click Auto-delete. Click Next, then Confirm.

How to change your privacy settings on Android

If you use an Android device, you should find the same Google privacy options above. Depending on the make and model of your device, you may have additional privacy settings and permissions to configure.

For example, with a Samsung Galaxy S10, you can update the following privacy settings:

A screenshot of the Android OS for a Samsung Galaxy S10 cell phone in dark mode. It shows the Privacy settings available for change.

  • Customization Service: Personalizes ads based on your interests, location, and app usage data.
  • Send diagnostic data: Sends information about bugs or errors you experience while using your device. (You'll need to uncheck the two options under this setting to disable it.)

A screenshot of the Android OS on a Samsung Galaxy S10 cell phone in dark mode. The Send diagnostic data window is open, showing the agreement options unchecked to disable diagnostic data from being sent.

  • Android personalization service: Customizes content based on your app usage.
  • Android System Intelligence: Device learning that makes suggestions based on the people, apps, and content you interact with.
  • Autofill service from Google: Automatically fills in online forms with your information, such as name, address, and credit card number.

Other privacy and security settings on your Android device may include ad settings, browsing history and Google search, and location history.

How to change your Microsoft privacy settings

If you use Microsoft products, you can update your privacy settings to turn off data collection.

You may want to adjust your speech recognition data tracking as well. Microsoft’s speech features listen to your voice input to collect voice data, which includes details about your voice. And when the Windows Voice activation setting is on, your device listens for certain keywords. If the device hears the keyword, it will continue to listen for your voice.

You can also update your app activity regarding which applications get launched and how often they are accessed. The software you use can get tracked, and some users would prefer that, for their privacy, Microsoft not have that data.

Your online browsing behavior in Microsoft Edge can get tracked with cookies. Since there are privacy issues with cookies, you should update those settings, too.

Changing your Microsoft privacy settings is a breeze if you know the correct steps to follow.

How to change your Windows 10 privacy settings

Microsoft saves your data and uses it to give you a more personalized experience. It also uses your data for marketing purposes and to show you ads for things you might like based on your saved history. If you’re not interested in that experience, you can update your preferences to change what data Microsoft saves.

1. Go to your Settings by clicking on the Start menu.

A screenshot of the Windows 10 Start menu and the Settings option highlighted.

2. Click on "Privacy."

3. You'll see a page with links to various privacy settings.

4. You can choose which privacy settings you want to adjust. We recommend clearing your Activity history and Location data. You'll also be able to update all of the settings we mentioned above under the Privacy option, like speech and advertising data.

A screenshot of the Windows 10 settings window with Privacy selected and the option to change different privacy settings.

How to change your Windows 11 privacy settings

You can alter the information you share with Microsoft in Windows 11 just like you can with Windows 10. The steps are very similar, and you will be able to update your privacy settings as you wish.

  1. Go to your Start menu button. If you have not moved the button back to the original left corner (as some of us have done), it will be close to the bottom center of your screen.
  2. Navigate to Settings and choose "Privacy & security." You may need to click the Settings cog wheel to open your System settings, then click the hamburger menu in the top-left corner to find the "Privacy & security" settings.
  3. As with Windows 10, you will see a list of privacy options you can update to reflect what you want Microsoft to save and track.

Change your privacy settings for Xbox, Microsoft Office, Skype, and more 

You can access your privacy settings and change multiple Microsoft apps and devices by signing into your Microsoft account. Simply use the link to the Microsoft account privacy controls page to make changes.

How to change your iOS and macOS privacy settings

Apple collects your personal information depending on how you interact with their products. That could be connecting to their services like the App Store or contacting customer support for help with your device. 

Your personal information and payment selection are data that can get tracked and saved. Sometimes even your social media interactions may get tracked.

How to disable ad tracking on iOS and macOS

If you decide that you don’t want Apple tracking your ad history, you can disable this setting on your iPhone or Macbook with a few easy steps.

1. Go to your System Preferences under the Apple logo at the top of your Mac device.

2. Click "Security & Privacy," then choose the "Privacy" tab.

A screenshot of the macOS Security & Privacy settings with the Privacy tab selected and in dark mode. Two red arrows point to the highlighted Apple Advertising option and the unchecked Personalized Ads option.

3. Make sure "Apple Advertising" is highlighted on the left of the screen.

4. Remove the checkmark for Personalized Ads.

For your iOS device, the steps are similar.

  1. Go to the Settings app on your iPhone. Find and choose the Screen Time tab.
  2. Select the "Content & Privacy Restrictions" option.
  3. Click the toggle button to turn on "Content & Privacy Restrictions" and block the ad tracking on your iPhone.

A screenshot of an iPhone in dark mode. The Content & Privacy Restrictions window is open, showing multiple privacy settings like location services, microphone, and Share My Location.

How to turn off data sharing for Apple analytics

Sometimes Apple will ask you to share information from your devices for analytics purposes.

That data can include information regarding your operating system, performance, and hardware specs. Although none of the data collected identifies you personally, if you don’t want to share that information, you can turn it off on your Apple device.

  1. On your iPhone, go to the Settings menu.
  2. From there, navigate to Privacy, then Analytics & Improvements. Here you can turn off "Share iPhone Analytics."

On your Macbook, you can also turn off data sharing.

1. Go to the Apple logo and choose System Preferences.

2. Select the "Security & Privacy" option.

3. From there, you will see the "Security & Privacy" menu. If you see a lock at the bottom left of the screen, click it to make any changes.

4. Go to "Analytics & Improvements," and deselect "Share Mac Analytics" and "Share with App Developers." Now you’ve opted out of sharing analytics with Apple.

How to turn off Siri

If you have an iPhone, you may have used Siri to make life a little simpler by voicing commands or asking Siri for instructions to a destination.

Many people enjoy the convenience of using Siri’s functionality, but some people don’t want Siri turned on because they don’t find it useful. 

When you ask Siri a question, you may not get an answer, or you might get an answer about how Siri found an article on the web for you. And if you use Siri for voice-activated texting you still need to check for typos because it can end up making no sense at all.

If you would like to disable Siri, it only takes a few steps.

  1. Go to Settings on your iPhone.
  2. Go to Siri & Search.
  3. Make sure the "Listen for 'Hey Siri'” button is swiped to the left. Also turn off the "Press Side Button for Siri" option.

If you’ve used Siri and you want to delete the history, you can access that from the same Settings menu option.

On iPhone:

  1. From "Siri & Search," go to "Siri & Dictation History."
  2. Click on "Delete Siri & Dictation History."

On Macbook:

  1. From your Macbook, go to the Apple logo and choose System Preferences.
  2. Select "Siri," then "Delete Siri & Dictation History."

A screenshot of the Mac options for Siri in dark mode. Two red arrows point to the unchecked box for Enable Ask Siri and the grayed out option to Delete Siri & Dictation History.

Privacy settings FAQs


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How do I stop Google from sharing my searches?

You can stop Google from sharing your searches by going to myactivity.google.com and turning off Web & App Activity.


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What privacy settings should I use for Microsoft?

You should turn off the following Microsoft privacy settings if you want to keep your personal information and searches private:

  • Let apps use my advertising ID for experience across apps
  • Location
  • Let apps use my camera
  • Let apps use my microphone

Also, disable the Speech and Inking & typing personalization settings. 

The Communicate with unpaired devices (or Synced devices) setting in the Other devices tab should also be turned off, as it leaves a potential entry point for hackers who are within wireless range of the device.

Additionally, since a VPN encrypts data, some people get a subscription to one for an extra layer of privacy.


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What privacy settings should I have on my iPhone?

If you would rather Apple not track your data, you want to turn off:

  • Location tracking
  • iPhone analytics
  • Ad tracking

Bottom line

No matter what device or operating system you use, it’s crucial that you take the time to check your privacy settings on a regular basis.

When you reset your phone or computer, your privacy settings may go to their original default settings, and you want to be sure you set them back to your preferences. Most devices come with multiple privacy options, but knowing how to update them gives you the ability to choose how and if your data gets shared.

Privacy is something none of us should take for granted. As technology evolves and becomes more accessible, so does the ability to track enormous amounts of data. Privacy and security features are central parts of many tech company campaigns. What you may not know is that you have to update your privacy settings to take advantage of those security features.

If you’ve made all the privacy setting changes we’ve gone over and still feel you want a little more data security, you can use a virtual private network (VPN) to improve your online privacy. You can learn how to set up your VPN on our website, and read about other ways to maintain your privacy while using the internet.

Author Details
Patti Croft
Patti Croft has a B.S. in Computer Information Systems and an MBA. She's also a Certified Health Data Analyst through the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). Patti worked in Information Technology for 16 years and loves everything tech and gadgets!