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ISSUE 18.16.F • 2021-05-03

In this issue

APPLE: Take control of your Mac’s privacy

Additional articles in the PLUS issue

LANGALIST: More on OneDrive, and Symlinks

PUBLIC DEFENDER: Microsoft Casual: it ain’t all fun ’n’ games

MICROSOFT: How to control the privacy of your Microsoft account

PATCH WATCH: Last call for 1909

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Take control of your Mac’s privacy

Nathan Parker

By Nathan Parker

Apple’s emphasis on privacy is focused on personal devices, such as iPads and iPhones. But Macs have privacy settings, too.

In my recent article “Take control of your privacy — iPhone & iPad” (AskWoody 18.12, 2021-04-05), I discussed many of the settings provided by iOS and iPadOS to control the privacy and security of the device and the apps running on it. Although one might think all Apple systems would be in lockstep, I have noticed that the settings in macOS are not quite as granular, not quite as detailed, as those in iOS/iPadOS.

This will surely change over time because Apple heavily promotes privacy as a key market advantage of its products, including recent changes in iOS 14.5 that provide greater control over advertising. For now, however, there are subtle differences in the control you have over privacy on your Macintosh. (Don’t assume that the settings described here are the same as those described in my earlier article, referenced above, because they have the same heading. Read these macOS sections carefully.)

Review privacy prompts

Apple usually provides you with various prompts when apps request access to certain features such as your location data, your contacts, photos, etc. Any time you are presented with a privacy prompt from Apple, don’t simply dismiss it with a quick “allow” just to get rid of the prompt. Take a moment to review what the prompt is asking and decide whether the app really needs access to such features in order to function the way you want it to. You can also go back at any time and fine-tune app privacy settings using the Security & Privacy section of the macOS System Preferences app. Let’s take a closer look at the privacy settings available.

Note: These features vary depending on the version of macOS installed on your Mac. This article assumes readers are on the latest version of macOS, which at the time of writing is Big Sur 11.

Location Services

Location services allows you to choose which apps have access to your device’s location — which consists of Wi-Fi network location data. Currently, you may , enable/disable location services on a per-app basis. No other granular controls are available.

Apple also provides location controls for System Services. I recommend keeping most of these enabled for optimal device performance. The settings you may want to check include Significant Locations (whether your device stores a record of the main places you visit). It also sets whether you want an icon to appear in your device’s menu bar if a system service requests location data (the little arrow next to the Wi-Fi icon).

Contacts, Calendars, and Reminders

Decide which apps may access your macOS Contacts, Calendars, and Reminders apps.


This setting decides which apps can access photos stored by your Photos apps and whether those apps need access to all or just some of your photos. There are three choices:

  • Full Access: Apps can access your entire library of photos
  • Selected Photos: Apps can access only the photos you specify
  • None

Camera, Microphone

I enable access to the camera only for audio calling, messaging, or audio/video recording apps.

Speech Recognition

So far, I haven’t found any macOS apps needing access to speech recognition.


I have enabled this for only a handful of apps (mostly screen recording or screen sharing apps).

Input Monitoring

Some apps have the ability to monitor keyboard input from other apps. It’s rare; in my experience, only OBS (the open-source live-streaming app) requests this.

Full Disk Access

macOS offers the ability to restrict an app’s access to storage (HDD, SSD). Apps that need full disk access include backup utilities, hardware-testing utilities, security and virus scanners, and file-transfer apps. Other apps can be restricted to specific folders as desired (see Figure 1).

Full Disk Access dialog
Figure 1. The Full Disk Access option in Security & Privacy

Files and Folders

Apple has added a feature in macOS called “sandboxing,” in which the user grants somes apps access to particular files and folders. Apple will usually prompt when an app needs such access.

Screen Recording

Screen-recording and -sharing apps usually need this enabled.

Media & Apple Music

This sets which apps may access music stored with the Music app or music streamed from Apple Music. Only a handful of apps, including the Apple-owned Shazam, ask for this.


Controls access to your smart-home data stored in the macOS Home app and is generally used for smart-home apps that connect with Apple’s HomeKit service.


I enable Bluetooth only for smart-home apps or apps that need to stream media to a non-Apple media streamer such as Google Chromecast. I also use it for sharing my iPhone’s screen wirelessly with my Mac.


Apple will generally prompt you when an app needs the ability to control another app.

Developer Tools

This setting controls whether developer tools need to run software locally that is outside of Apple’s built-in security features. This is generally needed only for developers who are building apps using Xcode, or for those who need to build and run apps using Terminal.

Analytics and Improvements

This is where you decide which usage data you wish to share with Apple to improve their products and services. The large array of options includes:

  • Share Analytics: Share general usage data
  • Share with App Developers: Share usage data and crash reports with app developers
  • Improve Siri and Dictation: Share usage data from the Siri voice assistant or voice dictation

Apple attempts to collect only anonymous usage data when possible, although it is up to you to decide which, if any, usage data you want to share with Apple to help them improve their products and services.

Apple Advertising

This determines whether Apple can show personalized advertising in apps that use Apple’s advertising feature. Apple does offer more anonymous usage statistics for showing personalized advertising in apps, but I still keep this feature disabled. Note that this will not disable advertising in apps in general. It will show only less-personalized ads.

Taking a few moments to adjust these various privacy settings on your Mac ensures that privacy remains in your control. It’s also a good idea to review these settings periodically, perhaps annually, or with each major macOS update, because Apple continues to make changes and add features relating to security and privacy.

Questions or comments? Feedback on this article is always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

Nathan Parker has been using Apple devices since 2006, when he purchased a PowerBook G4 running Mac OS X Tiger. He has worked in various IT consulting roles and is currently an IT consultant for Earth Networks (formerly WeatherBug). In addition to his contributions on AskWoody, Nathan also blogs weather updates at WeatherTogether. And he’s working on his PhD.

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Fred Langa

More on OneDrive, and Symlinks

By Fred Langa

A recent column on OneDrive problems brought a ton of email from readers asking for help with overcoming OneDrive’s poor documentation, weak user interface, and other limitations.


Brian Livingston

Microsoft Casual: it ain’t all fun ’n’ games

By Brian Livingston

Microsoft removed its games from Windows 8, but they’re just lightly hidden in Windows 10. In addition, the whole Microsoft Casual Games package is downloadable — and boy, are people having problems.


Lance Whitney

How to control the privacy of your Microsoft account

By Lance Whitney

You can review and manage a host of privacy settings and collected data for your Microsoft account via a dedicated account website.

I know that some Windows users shy away from creating a Microsoft account because they’re concerned about the software giant siphoning up too much information about them.


Susan Bradley

Last call for 1909

By Susan Bradley

All’s clear for updating. Plus, I bid farewell to the man who saved the Internet.

As noted in my Alert last week, I’ve given the all-clear to install updates this month. The printing bugs have been squashed, and no other issues are apparent.

You’re welcome to share! Do you know someone who would benefit from the information in this newsletter? Feel free to forward it to them. And encourage them to subscribe via our online signup form — it’s completely free!

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