'' Default settings on devices allow the tech industry to keep collecting and using data as it wants. ''

A report in The Guardian in August that lawyers who had business before the U.S. Supreme Court gave money to an aide to Justice Clarence Thomas for a Christmas party was surprising.

Just as surprising was the way the publication learned about it : from the aide's Venmo records. Brian X. Chen, the consumer technology writer for The Times, wrote that even he was surprised that such records of money transfer could be public.

A few years ago it became known that Alexa, Amazon's voice device, recorded and sent private conversations to third parties, that Amazon staffers listened to recordings and kept an extensive archive recordings by default.

Both companies responded to these startling violations of privacy by suggesting that the burden to keep this information from going public was on users, who could, they said, opt out of the devices' default settings to ensure privacy.

This is often the standard industry response.

Even if you are aware of these problems, how easy is it to protect your privacy? Chen helpfully shared instructions for opting out of Venmo's public disclosures.

'' Inside the app, click on the Me tab, tap the settings icon and select Privacy. Under default privacy settings, select Private,'' he explained. '' Then under the 'More' section in Privacy, click ' Past Transactions ' and make sure to set that to ' Change All to Private.' ''

Got all that? I did, and changed my settings, too, as I had also been in the dark.

The bigger problem is not the sometimes ridiculous difficulty of opting out, it's that consumers often aren't even aware of what their settings allow, or what it all means.

If they were truly informed and actively choosing among the available options, the default setting would matter little, and be of little to no value.

But companies expect users to accept what they're given, not know their options or not have the constant vigilance required to keep track of the available measures.

The World Students Society thanks author Zeynep Tufekci.


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