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Protect Your Privacy on Xbox Series X/S – Settings to Change

Online privacy is officially a big deal for console gamers. The ninth generation of game consoles offer immersive social experiences. And to deliver them the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S are intended to be connected to the internet nearly all the time.

Microsoft, Sony, and their developers are always looking for methods to improve their software and products. And tracking the activity of their users is an important way they get feedback.

The trend has been for companies to not hold back in terms of collecting user data and sharing it with their partners such as advertisers. But the good news is that’s only the default. They also give their customers the ability to control which data is collected, and which isn’t. People that take the time to change their privacy settings are rewarded with greater anonymity as well as peace of mind knowing their actions are not being tracked.

One step Microsoft took in respecting its customers’ online privacy is the removal of technology that gathers voice data. Before the release of Xbox Series X/S in 2020 the company updated its privacy policy and announced it would no longer collect voice search or speech-to-text data on users. In contrast, the PS5 collects voice data by default and it can be turned off in the privacy settings.

Xbox users have the option of changing their privacy settings either on the console or through the web.

Ready to boost your privacy on Xbox Series X and S? Let’s get started!

Where to Change Your Privacy Setting on Xbox Series X/S

Xbox Series X and S offer a comprehensive list of privacy features ranging from presets for families to controlling the information other Xbox Live users can see about you.

To access your Xbox’s privacy features, press the Xbox button and then select Profile & System > Settings > Account > Xbox Live Privacy > Privacy & Online Safety.

General Privacy Settings for Families

One of the first things you’ll notice in the Xbox’s privacy settings are the defaults for children, teens, and adults. This approach makes it easy for parents to manage the accounts of each of their family members.

Child: These defaults are intended for young children and it has the highest level of privacy. Children can download free content such as games, videos, music, and apps. They need permission from an adult to add friends. They’re only able to communicate with approved friends and their name Is hidden. Even friends can only see their display name.

Teen: The Teen defaults are less restrictive than Child in terms of socializing. They’re still limited to downloading free content only. They’re given more freedom to connect with people (and to be connected with). Friends can see when they’re online and view their profile.

Adult: As you’d expect Adult has few restrictions. You can download whatever you like. And your activity is shared and visible to your friends.

Exploring Xbox’s Privacy Options

The privacy defaults give you a good starting point. From there you can drill down into the options and make additional tweaks if you desire.

For example, by going to Profile & System > Settings > Account > Privacy & Online Safety > Message Safety, you can specify who can contact you and through which channels of communication. These settings can be adjusted for voice, text, and messages.

If there are people on your friends list you don’t want to share everything with, Xbox allows you to manage this. You can determine which friends can see your real name, as well as who can comment on your activity feed. To change your feed settings, go to Settings > General > Online Safety & Family.

Finally, you’ll want to check which social media accounts your Xbox is connected to. Just hop onto Settings, then Account. It’s recommended that you disconnect any apps you haven’t used in the past six months.

Turning Off Data Collection

Microsoft’s announcement that it would no longer be collecting voice data from its users was a breath of fresh air.

They do still collect diagnostic and usage data about your console. This means Microsoft tracks the apps and features you use. Data collection is also used for error reporting, “to help improve console performance, troubleshooting, and more,” as they put it.

For online privacy aficionados, blocking data collection is one first things to do when they get a new console. While most of the Xbox’s privacy settings relate to how you share information with other users, this is a key option that stops Microsoft from tracking your activity.

Go to Privacy & Online Safety and then Data Collection. From here you can select ‘Block’ from the dropdown menu.

It’s also likely that Microsoft collects data related to their mailing list such as if their emails were opened, read, deleted, etc. If you’re not that interested in keeping up with Microsoft’s offers you’ll want to head to ‘Contact Preferences’ and remove yourself from their mailing list.

Boost Your Online Privacy with a VPN

Want to enjoy gaming with the highest level of privacy? Consider using a VPN.

So, what’s a VPN? It’s short for virtual private network. Essentially, it’s an encrypted tunnel that goes between your Xbox and the internet.

Companies and individuals can find out a lot about you such as your location when they have access to your IP address. VPNs replace your IP with a different IP that’s associated with any location you choose. It allows you to take your online privacy into your own hands rather than hoping for the best with privacy settings.

To learn about how to use a VPN with the Xbox Series X/S, check out this guide. And if you’re starting your research about VPN services visit LetMeBy’s reviews of the top choices.

Verdict

Unlike Sony’s PS5 the Xbox Series X/S doesn’t give you a list of options to configure in terms of data that is sent back to Microsoft. That’s good and more straightforward! All data collection can either be turned on or off.

Xbox shines at giving you many privacy options so you can control who sees your real name, your feed, who can contact you, etc. You’ll feel good about hopping on Xbox Live knowing your account can be as public or private as you like by tweaking the settings.

Protect Your Privacy on PS5 – Settings to Change

Many are acutely aware of privacy catches associated with social media apps but neglect to consider their online privacy on game consoles.

With the PS5’s fun multiplayer experiences, stunning 4K visuals, and ray tracing, privacy isn’t usually top of mind. But it only takes one quick trip to its privacy settings to recognize it’s worth looking at and tweaking.

Unlike the PS4 that came before it, the PS5 has a mic built right into its DualSense controller. That means privacy is officially a big deal on Sony consoles. What you blurt out can potentially be captured and used as a key data point by the company. In fact, it’s recently been confirmed that the PS5’s controller automatically records anything you say after unlocking a trophy.

Sony is also collecting other user behavior data such as the games you play, plus audio and video content you stream. Other data such as time spent in games, upload and download speed, and game libraries are also being uploaded to Sony’s servers and analyzed.

It’s unlikely they’re spying on gamers. Rather the data is used to improve Sony’s software and products. Regardless, if the idea of your every action being tracked bothers you there are steps you can take to regain your privacy.

1. Limit Data Sent Back to Sony

To get started, launch your PS5 and drill down into the privacy settings:

Settings > Users and Accounts > Privacy > Data You Provide

For the PS5 to function correctly it needs to collect some data. However, you’re free to turn off sharing of your behavioral data. Thus, Sony gives users two options:

Full – Share behavioral data to help us continually improve and personalize your experience.

Limited – Share only data necessary to maintain and operate core PlayStation features and services.

Select ‘Limited’ for greater privacy.

Next, scroll down to see other data Sony is collecting and to access additional privacy settings.

2. Turn Off Voice Data Collection

You can also disable voice data collection without affecting the PS5 DualSense controller’s ability to accept voice commands.

There’s no way of knowing what Sony is doing with the various voice recordings it collects or the extent of what is being captured. Sony has said they don’t record audio used in voice chats. No statements have been made about audio within videos. And what about things you say when you think your mic is off, but it isn’t?

Access the following menus to turn off voice data collection:

Settings > Users and Accounts > Privacy > Voice Data Collection

Once again there are two options. And it’s super straightforward.

Allow – Use your voice data to improve voice features.

Don’t Allow – Don’t use your voice to improve voice features.

Select ‘Don’t Allow’ so Sony can’t potentially collect private statements or your conversations.

3. Turn Off the PS5’s Mic Entirely

Do you rarely use the PS5’s mic and voice command features? If that’s the case you may want to set up your PS5 so the mic is off when you’re logged in, or manually turn off the DualSense controller’s mic when it isn’t needed.

To manually turn off your mic, tap the ‘Mute’ button located under the PS button on your controller. If the button is lit up orange that means the mic is off. Additionally, you’ll also briefly see a mute notification icon appear in the top right corner of your screen.

A bit on the forgetful side when it comes to details? Keep your mic turned off by default when you power up your console. Go here:

Settings > Sound > Microphone > Microphone Status When Logged In

Move down to ‘Microphone Status When Logged In’ and choose ‘Off.’

4. Don’t Include Mic Audio in Video Recordings

Many gamers like to include ad-libs and commentary in their gaming videos. If you’re the type that’s only interested in capturing gameplay there’s no need to capture audio with your mic. Go here:

Settings > Captures and Broadcasts > Video Clip Format > Include Your Mic’s Audio

Turn off ‘Include Your Mic’s Audio’ so speech and background noise aren’t captured in your videos.

5. Switch Off Video Recordings When Trophies Are Unlocked

Ah, that moment of glory when you unlock a hard-to-achieve trophy. The PS5 records a short video to commemorate the moment along with audio from your mic.

It’s a fun feature but it also has privacy implications. Voice data associated with this feature is sent to Sony. The videos also take up plenty of hard drive space, particularly if they’re being recorded in 4K.

If trophy videos don’t interest you, disable them here:

Settings > Captures and Broadcasts > Trophies > Save Trophy Videos

Recommended: Gain Better Privacy by Using a VPN

If you want your online privacy to be the best it can be on the PlayStation Network, you’ll want to consider using a VPN.

A virtual private network, or VPN for short, is an encrypted tunnel that goes between your PS5 and the internet. It hides your true IP address and location and replaces it with an IP associated with the country of your choice.

VPNs protect you from malicious users on the PlayStation Network. It also gives gamers greater anonymity. VPNs can prevent companies and third parties from collecting data about you. And if they do manage to collect your data the VPN makes it impractical for them to associate the data with your true identity.

The PS5’s operating system has advanced settings that make it straightforward to leverage a VPN service. Check out LetMeBy’s full guide to using your PS5 with a VPN.

Verdict

It’s time to take privacy seriously on game consoles like PS5. By default, your activity is tracked but thankfully Sony has made it fairly simple to opt-out of this within your ‘Settings.’

The fact that Sony gathers voice data from PS5 gamers is particularly alarming. Their DualSense controller has a mic built-in and that’s easy to forget if you don’t use the mic often. Thus, out of everything covered here, it’s important that you turn off ‘Voice Data Collection.’ Regardless of what Sony is doing with the voice data, the fewer devices that are listening for long stretches of time in your home the better.

How to Unblock WhatsApp at School or Work

When it comes to messaging apps people like options. And it’s well demonstrated in lists of the top 10 apps with the most active monthly users. WhatsApp Messenger, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram typically all make the top 10 year after year.

WhatsApp has global appeal. The app is seriously popular with approximately two billion users worldwide, outranking WeChat and Facebook Messenger. Countries with the most users worldwide are India, Brazil, and the US.

If you can’t access WhatsApp on your phone there are a few main reasons that is happening. First, WhatsApp could be blocked in your country. Second, it could be blocked by your workplace or school.

While WhatsApp is well-known and used globally there are just a handful of countries that don’t share the enthusiasm. Five countries have blocked WhatsApp in some capacity: China, North Korea, Syria, Qatar, and the UAE.

Social media and messaging apps like WhatsApp are also commonly blocked in corporate settings and at schools. Business-orientated messaging apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams are recognized as solid alternatives to email. However, if WhatsApp has been blocked it’s likely seen as a threat to productivity by decision-makers.

Why Is WhatsApp So Popular Internationally?

Meta has owned WhatsApp since 2014 when it was acquired for nearly $20 billion. Mark Zuckerberg and his company recognized the potential of WhatsApp early on and the move has paid off for them as Meta now dominates the messaging app space.

People in the US and Canada take mobile phone plans with unlimited international texting for granted. However, in areas such as Latin America customers are charged extra for international phone plans. Thus, many use WhatsApp rather than SMS for contacting people outside their country because it’s free.

Additionally, people in developing countries such as India often use WhatsApp so they don’t have to pay to use smartphone features like SMS and mobile data.

Common Reasons WhatsApp Is Blocked

WhatsApp and its associated services are widely available. However, in some situations the app has been blocked specifically.

People may need to unblock it for various reasons. After all, WhatsApp is a primary channel of communication for many around the globe. Here are the two main circumstances that will require a bit of help:

Offices or Schools

Networks in public places are much different than your Wi-Fi network at home. Higher levels of security are needed. Network admins put firewalls in place and also block apps that aren’t needed or desirable in that setting.

Messaging apps are just as useful to business users and students as anyone. Nevertheless, some leaders see WhatsApp as just another social media app that is a distraction to employees and students.

If you can’t access WhatsApp at school or work that means the network administrator added it to their list of restricted apps.

Traveling Abroad

Certain countries block access to WhatsApp within their borders for a variety of reasons. WhatsApp uses strong encryption so messages can’t be intercepted and viewed by any third parties. Some governments have a dim view of apps that make surveillance impossible. Additionally, since WhatsApp is free it has the potential to lower the profits of state telecom operations.

China is well-known for blocking apps that are widely used elsewhere in the world. Meta products such as Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram have all been blocked there. The Chinese have their own social media apps that perform similar functions as the ones that emerged from Silicon Valley in the US. In place of WhatsApp, WeChat is the leading messaging app in China.

Other countries have opted to block WhatsApp as well. Visitors to North Korea, Syria, Qatar, and the UAE may be in for a surprise when they can’t use WhatsApp. It is hugely popular in Brazil despite the fact the messaging app has been temporarily shut down in the country at certain points.

How to Unblock WhatsApp with a VPN

First, for those that are unfamiliar let’s touch on what a VPN is. A virtual private network is a way to connect to the internet that gives you an additional layer of data encryption and greater privacy.

When you use an app or visit a website your actual location and identity are not revealed with a VPN enabled. In fact, you can choose a new IP address associated with a different country than you’re currently in. That in turn can allow you to use apps that have been blocked in your true location.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at the steps associated with unblocking WhatsApp:

  1. Select your VPN – Any VPN service should be able to get you around a WhatsApp block. Choosing the right VPN requires more research if you need to access WhatsApp overseas. So, be sure to have a look at LetMyBy’s top 3 VPNs for full reviews of recommended services.
  2. Install the VPN app – Decent VPN providers all have their own app. After you’ve signed up for a VPN, find the link to their app on their website. You’ll be redirected to Apple’s App Store or the Google Play Store depending on the platform you use.
  3. Open the VPN app and log in – Launch the VPN app. You’ll need to enter the login info you used to create your account with the VPN provider. Next, tap ‘connect’ to start using the service.
  4. Choose a server – Typically the VPN app will automatically connect you to the best server based on your location. If you’re getting around a block at school or work, you’ve completed the process and can start using WhatsApp now. If the block is based on your country, you’ll need to complete the next two steps.
  5. Choose another location – Find the list of VPN server locations in the app. In many cases there’s a nice UI with a world map. Choose a country that is close and that hasn’t blocked WhatsApp such as the United States or the United Kingdom.
  6. Launch WhatsApp – Test WhatsApp to see if you can use it as normal. You should be good to go!

Choosing the Right VPN

Originally VPNs were primarily used by businesses to give their remote employees access to internal applications and data. A lot has changed since. Not only are there plenty of great VPN services to choose from, but they’ve become easy to use, affordable, fast, and secure.

Different VPN providers give you access to different protocols, all of which have associated pros and cons. Some protocols are better overall for use overseas in countries such as China. For example, OpenVPN is often cited as the best protocol for international travel.

Here are LetMeBy’s recommended VPNs for unblocking WhatsApp:

If you’re traveling abroad to countries such as China or the UAE, you’ll want to conduct further research to be certain your VPN of choice currently works in that location. For detailed reviews of the top 3 VPNs, visit this page.

Conclusion

VPNs are pretty amazing and the ability to unblock WhatsApp is just the tip of the iceberg.

You may find yourself in a situation where you absolutely need to access WhatsApp to check your messages or contact someone. Of course, it’s best to respect the rules of your workplace, school, and country.

You Should Use a VPN for Travel and Here’s Why

Everyone is tech-obsessed these days and it’s no different when we travel.

For many, a smartphone is the only device they need for their vacation. Business travelers and tech enthusiasts also opt to bring their laptop, tablet, or smart speaker. And while these devices open up amazing possibilities, there are also risks to be aware of.

While most think of precautions such as travel insurance, and putting their cash and valuables in a safe place. All too often they don’t think about how to protect themselves from cybercrime.

Public Wi-Fi: Convenient but Risky

You may have noticed hotels have Wi-Fi with lax security measures put in place. The hotel staff often use a simple Wi-Fi password and give it to all their guests. In other cases, the Wi-Fi is completely open, requiring only a room number, code, or click-through to go online. Either way, the Wi-Fi at hotels isn’t safe for anything beyond casually browsing the web. It’s particularly unsafe if you plan on entering your private data.

And that’s just one example. Free Wi-Fi is available everywhere from cafes to museums and airports. It’s convenient but any Wi-Fi offered to the public has risks associated with it.

You may be wondering why public Wi-Fi isn’t safe. The reason is anyone who is connected to the same network as you can potentially access your unencrypted data. Thus, your usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, browser cookies, and other data can be gathered by malicious individuals with the tech know-how needed to do so.

Making Wi-Fi Safe While Traveling

One solution to the pitfalls associated with public Wi-Fi is to avoid doing tasks that involve sharing your private data online. The problem with this approach is it’s easy to forget about security concerns when you need to get something done. Additionally, you could be targeted in a way you could never anticipate.

For most travelers, the most practical and effective way to protect your data is to use a VPN.

A VPN is an encrypted tunnel for your data that’s placed between your device and the internet. Essentially it turns any unsecured internet connection into a secure one.

About VPNs and Why They’re Used

VPN is short for virtual private network. Although VPNs were originally intended for business applications, it quickly become a technology all internet users can benefit from. After all, individuals have many of the same needs as businesses.

People use VPNs for two main reasons: to protect their online privacy and to enhance their security.

Starting with privacy, people are more concerned than ever about data that’s shared with third parties when they browse the web and use apps. Tech giants like Facebook and Apple have found ways to grant their users better privacy than ever, but one still needs to trust that they’re living up to their credo. Generally, people are slow to place their trust in most corporations today.

VPNs give users the true online anonymity they’ve always craved. It allows them to change their IP address (which is one of the most common ways to identify an internet user and their location). Thus, if they’re tracked with a VPN enabled their activity won’t be associated with their physical location.

The other reason VPNs are so popular is its ability to make the internet secure so that private data can’t be stolen by malicious individuals.

Smartphones are a primary internet device for literally billions of people worldwide. Today you’ll find Wi-Fi access in virtually any public place where people gather. The catch is that public Wi-Fi is less safe than hopping on the internet at home or work.

VPNs use state-of-the-art encryption so your data can’t be accessed or stolen by third parties.

Choosing the Best VPN for Travel

The first point to consider is if the VPN service you’re considering is well-supported in the countries on your bucket list. For example, some VPN services work reliably in China while others can potentially be blocked.

Check which protocols the service provides its users with. OpenVPN is often considered the best all-around protocol and people have reported it’s been working well in China in recent months. Having the ability to switch to different protocols is also useful to international travelers. If a protocol doesn’t work you can test the others, and in many cases at least one will do the job.

LetMeBy has tested many of the popular VPNs out there today. These are the most-recommended services for general travel:

If you’re traveling to China, you’ll also want to add VyprVPN to the list.

The company has been good about working around roadblocks in China. And they’ve been quick to adapt and offer solutions even though it can be challenging to use a VPN there.

How to Use a VPN

VPNs were once reserved for techies and business users. Now it’s easy to connect to a VPN with your phone, tablet, or laptop.

The first step is to download the app from your VPN provider.

This saves you the trouble of configuring individual apps such as your web browser to connect to the VPN. Additionally, it makes it straightforward to change settings such as selecting a new IP address associated with a different country than you’re presently in.

Next, launch the app. The login screen will appear. Enter your username or email and password provided by your VPN provider and you’re in. Yes, connecting is that easy.

Conclusion

Mobile data can be expensive when traveling abroad and since people are so used to accessing their devices frequently, Wi-Fi is a must. Public Wi-Fi gives travelers free access to the internet whether they’re in Honolulu, Rome, or Hong Kong.

The cost associated with using public Wi-Fi isn’t measured in dollars. Public networks are conveniences with a low level of security. Thus, it’s crucial to be mindful of the risks and take precautions.

Using a VPN while traveling not only protects your private data. It also gives you peace of mind. And with so many things on your mind while making the most of your time off, that’s a much-needed gift.

How Your Phone is Tracked and How to Hide Your Location

Ever get stunned by an ad that seems to know more about your life than it should?

At times it can seem like tech companies are listening to our conversions. However, the reality is nobody has time for that. There are much more efficient ways to gather data.

It’s true that businesses are very interested in your preferences and habits. By pinpointing the places you visit, learning the products you buy and opinions you have, advertisers can tailor their message just for people like you.

Often their goal is to build profiles of their typical customers. And to do that they gather information from many sources.

They leverage the tech built into your phone, sophisticated software, and the power of the internet. Websites use tracking codes, browser fingerprinting, and cookies that are stored on your laptop or phone. Some companies even purchase personal information from other businesses that specialize in gathering data.

How Apps and Websites Determine Your Location

Smartphones offer us amazing utility and convenience, but with that comes potential doorways to our private information.

Phones have GPS technology built-in and software developers use this to determine where you are. When you launch an app, it may ask for permission to access your photos or your location. You may have to agree for the app to function correctly, but in other cases it’s optional.

Websites often don’t need to ask for permission to determine your IP address and the country you’re based in.

You may have noticed websites sometimes ask to access your location data and you can accept or deny the request in your browser. A good example is when you’re searching for a retail store location that’s near you. Many people go for it as it’s more convenient to grant access to your location data than to enter your zip code or postal code.

Bluetooth Beacons Are Watching

Advertisers use hidden Bluetooth beacons in supermarket shelves, advertising posters, and malls to track you. It’s a simple device that transmits a continuous signal that phone apps can detect.

It notifies them when you have walked into a store or gone past an advertisement so it can be counted as a visit or ad impression. Beacons are also used to determine how effective an ad is.

Recommendation: Make it a habit to turn off Bluetooth when you aren’t using it.

IP Targeting: An Invasion of Privacy?

Ad tech is extremely sophisticated in terms of delivering a tailored message to the right geographic area or even household.

Geotargeting serves ads to wide location such as the United States or the city of Toronto.

IP targeting is much more specific to the point it may be perceived as intrusive. Advertisers can deliver specific ads to a list of households that fit criteria they have set, such as age, education, income, or even interests.

Recommendation: Use a VPN service whenever possible to hide your IP address. For more info about VPNs as well as best providers, go here.

Mobile Towers Can Determine Your Whereabouts

If you think turning off your phone’s GPS will effectively hide your location from all parties, think again. To receive service, smartphones transmit personal identifiers to cell towers owned by major network operators.

In other words, the technology your phone provider uses needs to track your location and verify that you’re a paying customer.

Thus, by simply owning a smartphone people have accepted tracking devices in disguise into their life. That’s because there’s currently no way to decouple the customer authentication process from the connectivity process.

The good news is there are startup companies such as Invisv working on solutions which may give smartphone users true location privacy in the future.

Recommendation: To keep your location data private and prevent it from being transmitted to cell phone and Wi-Fi towers enable the “Airplane Mode” feature on your phone.

Ad Trackers Build Profiles Associated with Your Devices

High-tech businesses sometimes use methods such as cookies, tracking URLs and tracking pixels to monitor consumer behavior. If their tech is sophisticated enough, they can piece together the data that is harvested and automatically build a profile that outlines your buying habits, interests, etc.

If you’ve ever wondered how websites and apps show you ads that are a little too relevant for comfort, this is how they do it. It’s called ad personalization.

Luckily Apple and Google have included settings on their phones that allows you to turn off ad personalization. It’s just a matter of drilling down into the settings.

Recommendation: Disable personalized services and ads in the settings on your iOS or Android phone. Additionally, you may want to disable cookies in your internet browser. To learn the steps required to do it, have a look at this page.

Conclusion

Although being tracked is part of modern life, there are plenty of ways to regain your privacy and hide your location. More often than not it comes down to turning off your phone’s features when you don’t need them, such as Bluetooth and its GPS.

For trackers that can’t be avoided so easily, VPN services allow you to choose a VPN server location that differs from your actual location. Any solid VPN provider has apps you can install on your phone, devices, and laptop so your privacy is fully protected.

Better personal privacy requires mindfulness and set up, but decoupling your technology from your location is a liberating pursuit. Enjoy your life and travels knowing third parties can’t pinpoint exactly where you are!