Christmas has finally arrived, and folks across the country are enjoying their high-tech gifts from friends and loved ones. This year the deals on gadgets were hot enough to melt the winter snow!
But with so many gifts being exchanged, it’s important to remember all tech and gadgets need to be set up — and doing so improperly can be dangerous for your privacy and security.
No matter what you got beneath the tree this year, there are some basic steps you can take to ensure your tech is working safely.
1. Stay ahead of hackers
This one should go without saying, but it’s always worth repeating. Hackers are relentless when it comes to designing tools and methods to steal our information.
When a bug or a security flaw is discovered, you can bet hackers will be all over it like flies on honey. That’s why updating software and firmware is critical to safeguarding your devices and data.
When vulnerabilities are found, software and hardware developers work quickly to patch them so customers stay safe. Ignoring these updates means leaving holes in your system for hackers to get in.
2. Register your devices
This will be more specific to each device, but it’s always worth visiting your product’s official website and registering it with the manufacturer. This lets them know who bought the product, what warranty services are available and what support options they can provide you.
It can also help you recoup your device in the event that a hacker does take over, or worse.
Because each product has a different process, it’s a good idea to check the user manual to see if any product registration info is available. Tap or click here to access thousands of user manuals online for free.
3. Back up all your old data
When you get a new device, don’t just start fresh. Back up and transfer your old data to your new gadget.
Accidents happen, but when data is lost you can’t piece it back together again. A detailed backup is one of the most important things you can do with your technology products.
Whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, laptop or video game console, creating a backup will preserve your private data in the event of a disaster, and can help you pick back up again — even if you move to a new device.
Plus, if your backup is secure, threats like ransomware become meaningless. Always back up your data no matter what.
4. Add your emergency contacts and set them as Favorites
It’s great to unwrap a smartphone or tablet. They give you the tools to communicate with anyone no matter where you are. That’s why it’s vital to add your emergency contacts in case disaster strikes.
When you add emergency contacts to your phone, odds are they’ll be mixed in with your regular ones. There’s no special marker or process to make them “emergency contacts,” so make them stand out as VIPs on your device. You’ll also want to set them as Favorites for speed-dial access.
On iPhone, simply open the Phone app and tap Favorites on the bottom left corner of the screen. Then tap the + icon in the upper left corner and select your preferred emergency contacts.
On Android, open the Phone app and tap Favorites in the bottom left corner. Then, tap Add on the top right corner of your screen and select the contacts you wish to add to your favorites. You can also add any contact to Favorites from within the Contacts app by tapping the Star icon in upper right corner.
5. Create strong, secure logins
Weak passwords are the bane of cybersecurity experts everywhere. In fact, they’re one of the top causes for hacks globally, and millions of bad passwords are already on record for hackers to use and abuse. Tap or click to see how bad passwords led to millions of stolen accounts ending up on the dark web.
Despite the urgency, it’s not super difficult to create strong passwords — but it requires some creativity. Avoid using your own name, or simple, common expressions that others would guess easily. Include numbers that aren’t personal to you and consider substituting letters with numbers.
6. Stop your new smart TV from spying on you
Smart TVs are hot gifts everyone loves, but did you know there’s someone behind the scenes watching your viewing habits? Smart TVs deploy a feature called ACR, or “Automatic Content Recognition.”
ACR scans the programs you watch and sends the data back to streaming services and marketing firms so they can advertise to you.
This is annoying and intrusive, and also one of the reasons smart TVs are so cheap nowadays. Fortunately, you can disable this feature. The steps will be different for every brand, so tap or click here to learn how to disable ACR on your smart TV.
7. Set up your smart speaker to delete recordings
A huge scandal erupted when it was revealed that Amazon was recording users and transcribing the data on Alexa products. But it’s far from the only company doing this. Google and Facebook are equally guilty of relying on user recordings to improve their respective AI.
Fortunately, each of these platforms offers a method to disable or remove recordings at your convenience, but most users aren’t aware of how to do it. These companies are banking on that for the sake of their software development, but there are multiple ways to configure your smart speakers for maximum privacy.
8. If you got a Ring, don’t bother using the Neighbors app
Thanks to Ring Video Doorbells, Amazon now controls one of the nation’s largest surveillance systems — and people willingly paid for it.
But the biggest risk Ring users face ispotentially revealing their home or office locations through Ring’s built-inNeighbors social network. Tap or click for details on what you’re really sharing ifyou have a Ring system.
If you make a post to Neighbors, thatalert is publicly visible and can be shared with everyone from law enforcementto dedicated snoops. If you avoid posting to Neighbors, you will enjoy moreprivacy along with your Ring doorbell.
9. Manage privacy settings
Just like smart TVs, streaming devices keep tabs on your viewing experience to better target you with ads and marketing. Fortunately, you can turn this off no matter which brand you use.
Roku: Open Settings, then Privacy, followed by Advertising and check the Limit ad tracking option.
Apple TV: Open Settings, then General, followed by Privacy and turn the Limit Ad Tracking option on.
Amazon Fire Sticks: Open Settings, then Preference, followed by Privacy Settings and turn off the Interest-based Ads option.
This will limit your device’s ability to track your viewing habits and will keep your private media time between you and your family.
10. Remove all the bloatware
Mac users are lucky. Unlike PC folks, they don’t have to worry about useless bloatware apps that come packaged from the manufacturer (unless, of course, you really hate the built-in Calculator and Calendar apps of MacOS.).
Thankfully, Windows 10 features a settings menu that lets you pick and choose the apps you want to keep on your system, making it easy to eliminate programs you’ll never use. Tap or click here to say goodbye to ad-filled games and boring productivity suites.
Bonus: Whatever you do, hang on to that box!
This is an unsung bit of holiday advice, but it can potentially save you hundreds of dollars when things don’t quite go as expected.
When returning any item, the box is the second most important thing to hang on to besides the receipt. Many stores won’t even accept returns without it, and keeping the box gives you a handy storage container in case you need to put your gadget away.
Plus, boxes for tech gear tends to contain important information like serial numbers and product codes — both of which are necessary to register your product and get tech support.
Plus, if you ever sell your device secondhand, having a box adds more value to your product and can help put even more money in your pocket when it’s time to recycle. Tap or click here for more details on selling your old smartphone