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Privacy Tip: Don’t Post Vaccination Record Cards on Social Media

So you’ve gotten your COVID-19 vaccination. Congratulations, and thank you for nudging the planet closer to the herd immunity needed for life to return to normal! It’s a good idea to take a photo of your card as a backup before filing it with your other important papers, just in case. (If you lose the original, you may be able to get a new one from the site where you got the vaccine or through your state’s Immunization Information System.) However, we do want to offer a note of caution. Resist the urge to post that photo—or one of you gleefully brandishing your card—on social media. The cards include your name, date of birth, vaccine location, and other personal information that could be used to steal your identity, and any digital miscreant worth their salt is already trawling through your social media feeds for as much personal information as they can find.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Don’t Store Confidential Files in Online File Sharing Services

Given their integration into the Mac’s Finder, it can be easy to forget that online file sharing services like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive can be accessed using a Web browser by anyone with your username and password. Obviously, you should always have strong, unique passwords, but to be safe, it’s best not to use services designed for public file sharing to store unencrypted files containing sensitive information like credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, passport scans, privileged legal documents, financial data, and so on. Keep such data secure on your Mac—outside of any synced folders—where accessing it requires physical access to the machine.

(Featured image based on an original by Kenaz Nepomuceno from Pexels)

How to Avoid Embarrassment During Online Presentations or Screen Sharing

Along with the now-ubiquitous videoconferencing, screen sharing and online presentations have become vastly more common during the pandemic. This isn’t yet another article about how to give a better presentation or feel more confident. (Although those might happen too.) The goal of this article is to help you avoid situations that could embarrass you in front of clients, colleagues, or bosses. Follow this advice and you could avoid an unfortunate happenstance that might even cause you to be fired.

Here’s the problem. Even more so than before the pandemic, our Macs feel like personal spaces. Just as you’d add a houseplant and a special photo to your desk at work, you’ve probably personalized your Mac in a variety of ways. Custom desktop wallpaper, for instance, or a screensaver that displays favorite photos. Plus, you may carry on personal conversations, possibly even intimate ones, if you catch our drift, using the same Mac that you use for communicating with those aforementioned clients, colleagues, and bosses.

We’re not here to admonish you or nag about inappropriate behavior. (Though we will encourage you to consider some sage advice from a friend’s mother, who noted drily that you should never put anything on the Internet that you don’t want to appear on the front page of the New York Times. And that was before Twitter.)

No, as we said, the goal here is to help you avoid the embarrassment caused by people who are viewing your screen seeing things they shouldn’t see, something that the New York Times has also covered. Some areas of concern include:

  • Desktop & Screen Saver: Jobs have been lost by inappropriate selections for desktop wallpaper and photo screen savers. Make sure, if you’re ever going to share your screen, that randomly chosen desktop pictures and folders of screen saver photos don’t contain anything that could be problematic. To be safe, choose an Apple-provided desktop picture and a pattern-based screen saver in System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver.
  • Icons on the Desktop: We all toss files on the desktop, but if preview icons or even filenames could cause trouble—you might not want your boss seeing Resumé.doc—corral them in another folder before you share your screen. Also note that many videoconferencing apps can limit their screen sharing to particular windows rather than the entire screen, which prevents people from seeing your desktop.
  • Web browser tabs: Limiting screen sharing to a particular window won’t help if it’s a Web browser window with multiple tabs. Even if you avoid accidentally navigating to a tab with NSFW content, its title alone might be problematic. For safety, always start a new browser window when sharing Web content.
  • Open apps and documents: As with icons on the desktop when sharing your entire screen, you may not want just anyone seeing what other apps and documents you have open. Again, stick to sharing a specific window. To avoid mistakes when selecting the window to share, we recommend hiding or quitting all unrelated apps before sharing your screen.
  • Document comments: When collaborating on a document, some people are less than politic with their in-document comments. If comments are visible when you’re sharing a document with people who wouldn’t otherwise see them, hard feelings could ensue. Make sure to hide or resolve such comments before sharing.
  • Notifications: Even if you have hidden or quit Calendar, Messages, Mail, and similar apps, their notifications could still appear at an inopportune time. You might not want colleagues to know about an ob-gyn appointment, meeting with a potential employer, or racy conversations with a coworker. The solution is Do Not Disturb, easily enabled from Control Center in macOS 11 Big Sur and by scrolling up in Today view in Notification Center in earlier versions of macOS. Also, although it won’t help with online screen sharing, it’s a good idea to enable the “When mirroring to TVs and projectors” option in System Preferences > Notifications > Do Not Disturb.

This may all sound a little overwhelming, but there is one trick that will help you avoid most of these problems at once. In System Preferences > Users & Groups, create a new user account dedicated to screen sharing and presentations. In that user account, you can be sure to have innocuous desktop pictures, screen savers, clean Web browser windows, and permanent Do Not Disturb. The hardest part will be figuring out the best way to share documents you use in presentations between your accounts (try the /Users/Shared folder or an online file sharing solution like Dropbox). Then, before you start a call when you’ll need to share your screen, choose your new account from the Fast User Switching menu from the right side of the menu bar (set up that menu in System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Options).

One final piece of advice. When you’ve accomplished what you need to by sharing your screen, stop sharing it and switch back to video. That way, you can’t accidentally do something in the shared window that might be embarrassing. Similarly, when a meeting is over or you’re dropping off for a while, it’s best to leave the call. Stopping video and muting audio are good tools, but it’s easy to click in the wrong spot accidentally and think you’re safe when, in fact, your mic or camera is still live.

(Featured image by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels)


Social Media: When sharing your screen online, would you be embarrassed if your clients, colleagues, or bosses saw what’s on your Mac—your desktop picture, screen saver, browser tabs, email notifications, or Messages conversations? Here’s what to watch out for.

New Features You May Have Missed in the iOS 14.1, 14.2, and 14.3 Updates

We’ve published overviews of the major features in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, along with detailed looks at our favorite features. But Apple keeps releasing updates with new features, and we wanted to take a moment to catch you up on what Apple has added in versions 14.1, 14.2, and 14.3. (If you’re running iOS 14 or iPadOS 14, you should update to the latest version, which is 14.3 as of this writing. There’s no benefit to staying at an interim version.)

Here’s what you may have missed.

Apple Fitness+

The highest-profile change in Apple’s recent updates is support for Apple Fitness+. It provides studio-style streamed video workouts that you can participate in using an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV. The linchpin of the system is the Apple Watch, which tracks your fitness metrics and progress and stores them in the Fitness app (previously called Activity).

Apple Fitness+, which can be shared by up to six family members through Family Sharing, costs $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year. All current owners of an Apple Watch Series 3 or later get a free month to try it out, and if you buy a new Apple Watch, Apple will give you 3 months for free.

If you have an Apple Watch and more exercise figured in your New Year’s resolutions, give Apple Fitness+ a try and see if you find it fun and worthwhile.

Intercom

Tired of yelling to get the attention of other members of your household? If you have two more HomePod speakers, you can use the new Intercom feature to send and receive messages through the HomePods. You can also send and receive messages through an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple Watch, or in your car with CarPlay.

To enable Intercom, open the Home app, tap the house icon at the upper left ➊, and tap Home Settings. In the Settings screen, tap Intercom ➋ and set when you want to receive notifications, who should be allowed to send and receive them when away from home, and which HomePods to use.

Once you’ve enabled Intercom, you can most easily invoke it with Siri on any of your devices using trigger words like “intercom,” “tell,” “announce,” or “ask.” You can also send messages solely to a HomePod in a specific room or zone by specifying its name in the message. For example:

“Hey Siri, announce ‘It’s time to leave now!’”
“Hey Siri, ask upstairs ‘Did anyone feed the fish?’”

You can also access Intercom from within the Home app. Tap the waveform button in the upper-right corner of the screen (➌ above), record your message, and tap the Done button to send it.

When you hear an Intercom message, you can reply. If the message went to the entire Home, your reply will as well. However, if the message was sent to your specific room, your response will go only to the device that sent the message. And you can always direct a reply to a particular speaker. For example:

“Hey Siri, reply ‘I’m almost ready to go, honest!’”
“Hey Siri, reply downstairs ‘Yes, I fed Goldie.’”

Loud Headphone Alerts

If you’re worried about damaging your hearing with too-loud headphone volumes (and you should be), go to Settings > Sounds & Haptics > Headphone Safety. There you can enable a notification that will tell you if you exceed the recommended limit for noise exposure (volume and time) as set by the World Health Organization.

That’s nice from a retrospective point of view, but more useful are the controls below, which let your iPhone actively protect your hearing by reducing the volume of sounds over a certain decibel level.

Optimized AirPods Pro Charging

Apple says that it has now tweaked AirPods Pro charging to increase the lifespan of the battery. It does this by delaying charging past 80% to reduce the amount of time the batteries stay fully charged. Apple previously did this with the iPhone and Apple Watch. Given that there’s no way to replace the battery in the AirPods Pro, anything that extends their useful life is welcome. Sadly, this feature isn’t available for the standard AirPods. If you find that the feature regularly prevents your AirPods Pro from having a full charge, you can turn it off in Settings > Bluetooth (make sure the AirPods Pro case is open or they’re in your ears). Tap the i button next to your AirPods Pro and turn off Optimized Battery Charging.

Launch Shortcuts on the Home Screen Directly

In iOS 14, the Shortcuts app lets users assign custom icons to shortcuts, which has led some to become obsessed with customizing their Home screens with shortcuts that launch their favorite apps. Dedicated designers have created all sorts of Home screen looks, ranging from the minimalist to the wacky. The only problem was that these shortcuts first launched the Shortcuts app and then switched to the desired destination app. As of iOS 14.3, shortcuts now launch directly from the Home screen without passing through the Shortcuts app.

Use Ecosia as Safari’s Default Search Engine

Want to move away from Google as your default search engine? iOS has long provided other options, including Yahoo, Microsoft’s Bing, and the privacy-focused DuckDuckGo. Apple has now added Ecosia, which is privacy-friendly and donates 80% or more of its profits to non-profit organizations that focus on reforestation. It’s a small way you can help fight climate change. It’s worth keeping in mind that Yahoo is a rebadged version of Bing, DuckDuckGo relies heavily on Bing, and Ecosia delivers results from Bing, enhanced by its own algorithms. In other words, when it comes to the quality of the search results, your choices are really between Google and Bing.

New Privacy Labels in the App Store

In Apple’s latest salvo against privacy-abusing apps and services, the company now requires all developers to provide information in App Store listings about what data collected by the app is linked to you personally and what data will be used to track your online movements. Apple doesn’t verify the information, and there’s no way to know if the developer is being truthful. Nonetheless, it’s good to see Apple pushing developers to be more transparent about their privacy practices. In the screenshot below, compare the ten screens of App Privacy details for what Facebook hoovers up with what is collected by the privacy-focused messaging app Signal: just your phone number, which is necessary for others to contact you.

App Clip Codes

In non-pandemic times, the new App Clips feature of iOS 14 might have gotten more attention. App Clips are lightweight versions of an app that let people perform quick tasks—ordering a latte, renting a scooter—without downloading and configuring the full app. Apple encourages developers using App Clips to advertise their presence with App Clip Codes, which look a little like QR codes but are dedicated to launching App Clips. Now that iOS 14.3 has added support for App Clip Codes, if you notice one while you’re out and about, try scanning it with your camera to see what App Clip pops up.

iOS 14’s updates have added plenty of smaller features as well, such as over 100 new emojis, an Apple TV+ tab in the Apple TV app, additional data options in the Health app’s Cycle Tracking feature, air quality data and recommendations in more countries, and detection of people in Magnifier (which is helpful for users who are blind or who have low vision).

So if you have kept your iPhone or iPad up to date but haven’t noticed these new features, give them a try!

(Featured image based on an original Web page by Apple)


Social Media: iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 came out a few months ago, but Apple has been busy since with feature-laden updates. Here’s what you may have missed in the 14.1, 14.2, and 14.3 updates.

Do You Know Who Can Track Your Location? It’s Worth Checking Periodically

Sharing your location works well when you’re out with friends or family and want everyone to be able to see where everyone else is. It’s easy to enable in various spots in iOS 13—in Messages, in Contacts, in the Find My app, and so on. You can share your location for an hour, until the end of the day, or indefinitely, but beware of this final option. If you’re with a group for a weeklong trip, for instance, sharing indefinitely makes sense, but it’s easy to forget to turn it off, at which point those people can see where you are at all times. We recommend that you periodically audit the list of people with whom you’ve shared your location. To do so in iOS 13, open the Find My app, tap the People button in the bottom toolbar, and look through the list. For anyone you want to delete, swipe left on their name and tap the trash button.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Use macOS’s Guest Account to Protect Your Privacy from Temporary Users

We’ve all had it happen. “Can I use your Mac for a minute to check my email?” The answer can be “Yes,” but to keep people from poking around on your Mac, have your visitor log in as Guest. To enable the Guest account, go to System Preferences > Users & Groups. If the lock at the bottom left is closed, click it and enter your admin credentials. Then click Guest User in the list, and select “Allow guests to log in to this computer.” To switch to the Guest account, go to the Apple menu and choose Log Out YourAccountName to access the login screen. Your guest can then click the Guest User icon, at which point they’ll have a clean account to work in. When they log out, the account—including any files they created or downloaded—will be deleted, thus protecting their privacy as well.

(Featured image by Apple)

Social Sites As Backup?

Its probably safe to say the best thing about social platforms is sharing images. Instagram is built exclusively on pictures and has become as ubiquitous as “Kodaking” was back when the Brownie was invented. Photos on social media are fun and inspiring in so many ways. Yet some of us rely on platforms like Facebook and Instagram for backup and access to our pictures; March 13th’s outage is just one more reminder that social platforms should not be used for back up. When you are choosing an online solution for backup, here are a few questions we think you should ask:
  • Are my images being compressed? How much?
  • Are my private images really private?
  • Who can view, edit or delete them? Can I?
  • Can I easily access them any time I want?
  • Am I able to locate the image I need quickly?
  • Who controls my copyright?
  • Will my images be used for unintended purposes like training artificial intelligence facial recognition without my permission? We’re looking at you Flickr and IBM.
  • Can I answer these questions, or will a deep dive in to Terms Of Service be required?
Enjoy your photo feed on social media. We love it too–especially when we’re friends with you and we follow each other. We don’t think social sites have a role in a sound backup strategy. A good backup is a 3-2-1 system: 3 copies of important files and photos on at least 2 different types of storage and 1 copy off site.

Apple Has Disabled Group FaceTime to Prevent Pre-call Eavesdropping

A serious bug has been discovered in Apple’s Group FaceTime multi-person video chat technology. It allows someone to call you via FaceTime and then, with just a few simple steps, listen in on audio from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac while the call is ringing, before you have accepted or rejected it. To prevent the problem from being exploited, Apple says it has disabled Group FaceTime and promises a fix “later this week.”

In the meantime, if you’re still concerned (there were some reports of people being able to invoke the bug even after Apple disabled Group FaceTime), we recommend turning off FaceTime entirely in Settings > FaceTime in iOS and by launching the FaceTime app in macOS and then choosing FaceTime > Turn FaceTime Off. (Or just be quiet when a FaceTime call comes in.) Apple may be able to fix the problem without requiring users to update software; if iOS and macOS updates do prove to be necessary, we recommend that you install them sooner rather than later.

What Are All These New Privacy Request Dialogs in Mojave?

With macOS 10.14 Mojave, Apple has beefed up the Mac’s privacy so it more closely resembles privacy in iOS. You’ve noticed that when you launch a new app on your iPhone or iPad, it often prompts for access to your photos or contacts, the camera or microphone, and more. The idea behind those prompts is that you should always be aware of how a particular app can access your personal data or features of your device. You might not want to let some new game thumb through your photos or record your voice.

macOS has been heading in this direction, but Mojave makes apps play this “Mother, May I?” game in more ways. As a result, particularly after you first upgrade, you may be bombarded with dialogs asking for various permissions. For instance, when you first make a video call with Skype, it’s going to ask for access to the camera and the microphone. Grant permission and Skype won’t have to ask again.

Skype’s requests are entirely reasonable—it wouldn’t be able to do its job without such access. That applies more generally, too. In most cases, apps will ask for access for a good reason, and if you want the app to function properly, you should give it access.

However, be wary if a permission dialog appears when:

  • You haven’t just launched a new app
  • You aren’t doing anything related to the request
  • You don’t recognize the app making the request

There’s no harm in denying access; the worst that can happen is that the app won’t work. (And if it’s malicious, you don’t want it to work!) You can always grant permission later.

To see which permissions you’ve granted or denied, open System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy. A list of categories appears on the left; click one to see which apps have requested access. If you’ve granted access, the checkbox next to the app will be selected; otherwise it will be empty.

You’ll notice that the lock in the lower-left corner is closed. To make changes, click it and sign in as an administrator when prompted.

Most of these categories are self-explanatory, but it might not always be obvious why an app wants permission. In the screenshot above, for instance, Google Chrome has been granted access to the Mac’s camera. Why? So Google Hangouts and other Web-based video-conferencing services can work.

There are five categories (including three not showing above) that could use additional explanation:

  • Accessibility: Apps that request accessibility access want to control your Mac. In essence, they want to be able to pretend to click the mouse, type on the keyboard, and generally act like a user. Utility and automation software often needs such access.
  • Full Disk Access: This category is a catch-all for access to areas on your drive that aren’t normally available to apps, such as data in Mail, Messages, Safari, Home, and more, including Time Machine backups and some admin settings. Backup and synchronization utilities may need full disk access, in particular. An app can’t request full disk access in the normal way; you must add it manually by clicking the + button under the list and navigating to the app in the Applications folder.
  • Automation: The Mac has long had a way for apps to communicate with and control one another: Apple events. An app could theoretically steal information from another via Apple events, so Mojave added the Automation category to give you control over which apps can control which other apps. You’ll see normal permission requests, but they’ll explain both sides of the communication.
  • Analytics: The Analytics privacy settings are completely different—they let you specify whether or not you want to share information about how you use apps with Apple and the developers of the apps you use. For most people, it’s fine to allow this sharing.
  • Advertising: Finally, the Advertising options give you some control over the ads that you may see in Apple apps. In general, we recommend selecting Limit Ad Tracking, and if you click Reset Advertising Identifier, any future connection between you and the ads you’ve seen will be severed from past data. There’s no harm in doing it. It’s worth clicking the View Ad Information and About Advertising and Privacy buttons to learn more about what Apple does with ads.

So if you’ve been seeing repeated requests for permission after you upgraded to Mojave, now you know why these dialogs keep popping up. They’re a bit annoying at first, but the added privacy is worthwhile, and once you’ve granted permission to an app, you shouldn’t hear from it again.


Social Media: macOS 10.14 Mojave changes how privacy works on the Mac by making apps ask for permission to use the camera, microphone, and quite a bit more. Here’s how this works and what you should do when prompted.

Being an Apple User Means You’re Not the Product

There’s an Internet saying: “If you’re not the customer, you’re the product.” The point is that, if you’re getting a service for free, the company providing it sees you not as a customer, but as a product to sell, generally to advertisers.

This is how Google, Facebook, and Twitter operate. They provide services for free, collect data about you, and make money by showing you ads. In theory, the more that advertisers know about you, the better they can target ads to you, and the more likely you’ll be to buy. Personalized advertising can seem creepy (or clueless, when it fails), but it isn’t inherently evil, and we’re not suggesting that you stop using ad-supported services.

This ad-driven approach stands in stark contrast to how Apple does business. Apple makes most of its money by selling hardware—iPhones, Macs, and iPads, primarily. Another big chunk of Apple’s revenue comes from App Store and iTunes Store sales, iCloud subscriptions, and Apple Pay fees. Knowing more about you, what Web pages you visit, what you buy, and who you’re friends with doesn’t help Apple’s business, and on its Privacy page, Apple says bluntly, “We believe privacy is a fundamental human right.”

Of course, once your data is out there, it can be lost or stolen—in June 2018, a security researcher discovered that the online data broker Exactis was exposing a database containing 340 million records of data on hundreds of millions of American adults. Ouch!

Let’s look at a few of the ways that Apple protects your privacy.

Siri and Dictation

The longer you use Siri and Dictation, the better they work, thanks to your devices transmitting data back to Apple for analysis. However, Apple creates a random identifier for your data rather than associating the information with your Apple ID, and if you reset Siri by turning it off and back on, you’ll get a new random identifier. Whenever possible, Apple keeps Siri functionality on your device, so if you search for a photo by location or get suggestions after a search, those results come from local data only.

Touch ID and Face ID

When you register your fingerprints with Touch ID or train Face ID to recognize your face, it’s reasonable to worry about that information being stored where attackers—or some government agency—could access it and use it for nefarious purposes. Apple was concerned about that too, so these systems don’t store images of your fingerprints or face, but instead mathematical signatures based on them. Those signatures are kept only locally, in the Secure Enclave security coprocessor that’s part of the CPU of the iPhone and iPad—and on Touch ID-equipped laptops—in such a way that the images can’t be reverse engineered from the signatures.

And, of course, a major goal of Touch ID and Face ID is to prevent someone from violating your privacy by accessing your device directly.

Health and Fitness

People with medical conditions can be concerned about health information impacting health insurance bills or a potential employer’s hiring decision. To assuage that worry, Apple lets you choose what information ends up in Health app, and once it’s there, encrypts it whenever your iPhone is locked. Plus, any Health data that’s backed up to iCloud is encrypted both in transit and when it’s stored on Apple’s servers.

App Store Guidelines

A linchpin in Apple’s approach to privacy is its control over the App Store. Since developers must submit apps to Apple for approval, Apple can enforce stringent guidelines that specify how apps can ask for access to your data (location, photos, contacts, etc.). This isn’t a blanket protection—for instance, if you allow a social media app Facebook to access your contacts and location, the company behind that app will get lots of data on your whereabouts and can even cross-reference that with the locations of everyone in your contact list who also uses the service.

In the end, only you can decide how much information you want to share with the likes of Google, Facebook, and Twitter, and only you can determine if or when their use of your details feels like an invasion of privacy. But by using Apple products and services, you can be certain that the company that could know more about you than any other is actively trying to protect your privacy.


Social Media: Many of the big Internet companies make their money by assembling a dossier of information about you and then selling advertisers targeted access to you. Luckily, that’s not true of Apple—here are a few of the ways Apple protects your privacy.

The post Being an Apple User Means You’re Not the Product appeared first on TidBITS Content Network.