Setting up a new computer is hard enough, but if you’re privacy minded, things are even more complicated. This is especially the case with a Mac, which keeps all kinds of stuff behind the scenes. Whether you’re setting up a new system or installing a new version of OS X, now’s a good time to check your privacy settings.
We all need to protect our private data. But when you’re working with sensitive files, pictures, and your passwords, you want to ensure other people can’t easily get to it. Beyond that, with a Mac, even simple things like your text messages can pop up in someone else’s face if you’re not careful. For some of us, this can feel like a huge privacy issue, but thankfully OS X has tons of settings you can tweak to lock down your data, search results, and more.
Audit OS X’s System Settings
By default, OS X is all about ease of use. This is great, except that it means your private data is general in the open, sitting around for anyone (or any app) to find. Much of the default behavior in OS X is meant to make things easier for you, but it also means that if someone sits down at your computer they can accidentally come across a ton of stuff you might not want them to. Here are a few general settings worth tweaking:
- Tweak your privacy system preferences: OS X has a built-in privacy tool that’s worth customizing.. Head to System Preferences > Security & Privacy and select the Privacy tab. Here, you can set which applications have access to your location data, iCloud data, and what can access deep system stuff (this is listed under Accessibility, but mostly includes apps like application launchers and text expansion programs). You can disable app access in bulk here or on an application-by-application basis.
- Turn on FileVault: OS X comes with built-in encryption software called FileVault. When you turn it on, you’ll need a login password or recovery key to see any data on your computer. Head to System Preferences > Security & Privacy and select the FileVault tab. Turn it on and it’ll encrypt your whole drive. This password protects everything, which makes it a lot harder for prying eyes to access your data without your password. It also means you need your password at all time, so don’t lose it!
- Don’t use Keychain: Keychain is Apple’s built-in password system. You have to use it for your login, but don’t use it for your browser data. With just your login password, someone can access all your other passwords, network drives, encrypted files, app passwords, and more stored on your computer. Instead, use a password manager like LastPass or 1Password that requires a master password (beyond your login password) to use.
- Manage your iCloud settings: iCloud is one of the big selling points with OS X is its integration with iOS. iCloud syncs all your photos, files, and everything else across your devices. If you’re on a shared computer, you might want to disable iCloud entirely. Just hop into System Preferences > iCloud and click the “Sign Out” button. It’ll stop syncing everything (which isn’t as convenient), but at least your data won’t be so easily accessible. That said, if you still really want to use iCloud, at least make sure you have two-factor authentication turned on.
- Disable iMessage and Facetime: “Continuity” is a big selling point for Apple. From your Mac, you can send and receive calls and texts that are synced with your iPhone. One potential problem comes when someone else is using your computer (or peeking over your shoulder) and you receive a text message you don’t want them to see. On top of seeing the notification with the message, they can also access entire conversations in Messages. If this is unsettling to you, you’ll want to disable Messages. Open up Messages, select Message > Preferences and sign out of your Apple ID. You can do the same with Facetime for phone calls.
- Disable Spotlight Web Search: In order for Spotlight to work, it needs to send your search data to Google, Apple, and Bing (whichever you’re using at the time.) That’s okay, but any time you search for something using Spotlight, Apple collects that data, too.. While Apple claims this is anonymized, it still feels a bit creepy.. To turn it off, head to System Preferences > Spotlight > Search Results and uncheck the boxes for Spotlight Suggestions and Bing Web Searches. If you still want the power of Spotlight without the creepiness, we recommend Alfred.
- Hide files from Spotlight: Speaking of Spotlight, you’ll also want to customize where it can search for files. If someone is sitting at your computer, they can tap Command+Space to search for any file on your computer (and search inside files as well). This is awesome when you’re looking for something yourself, but also makes it pretty easy for anyone snooping on you. Luckily, you can customize how this works. Head to System Preferences > Spotlight. Here, you can uncheck any boxes for search results you don’t want Spotlight to show. Spotlight will still index those files, but they won’t show in search results. You can also click the Privacy tab and add any folders that you don’t want Spotlight to index. This way, they won’t show up in search results at all.
Once all of those settings are tweaked, OS X is pretty locked down. . You’ll lose some of the functionality that makes OS X convenient, but at least you won’t just be handing private data over to anyone (or any app) who sits down at your computer.