MacBook For Dummies, 9th Edition
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Your MacBook comes packed with neat features and even a few cool tricks, especially with macOS Catalina, most of which you’ll likely want to protect. Use these tips to help safeguard your MacBook privacy.

MacBook privacy ©Shutterstock/Titima Ongkantong

Although it’s diminutive, the padlock icon that appears to the left of the website’s name in the address box when you’re connected to a secure website means a great deal! A secure site encrypts the information that you send and receive, making it much harder for those of unscrupulous ideals to obtain private data, such as credit-card numbers and personal information.

You can click the padlock icon (next to the site name) to display the security certificate in use on that particular site. A secure site web address begins with the prefix https: instead of http:. (The extra s stands for secure. A Good Thing.)

How to change the cookies acceptance plan on your MacBook

First, a definition of this ridiculous term. A cookie— a small file that a website automatically saves on your Mac’s drive — contains information that the site will use on your future visits. A site might save a cookie to preserve your site preferences for the next time or (as with shopping on Amazon.com) to identify you automatically and customize the offerings that you see.

In and of themselves, cookies aren’t bad things. Unlike a virus, a cookie file isn’t going to replicate itself or wreak havoc on your system, and only the original site can read the cookie that it creates.

But many folks don’t appreciate acting as a gracious host for a slew of snippets of personal information (not to mention that some cookies have highly suggestive names, which can lead to all sorts of conclusions; end of story.)

You can opt to disable cookies or set Safari to accept cookies only from the sites you choose to visit. To change the Cookie Acceptance Plan (CAP, for those who absolutely crave acronyms)on your MacBook, follow these steps:

  1. Choose Safari→Preferences.
  2. Click the Privacy tab of the Preferences dialog.
  3. Click Block All Cookies.

If a site’s cookies are blocked, you might have to take care of things manually, such as by providing a password on the site that used to be read automatically from the cookie.

Feeling nervous about the data stored by the websites you visit? You can always delete all that stored information with a single click. On the Privacy pane of the Safari Preferences dialog, click the Manage Website Data button; then click the Remove All button. You’ll be asked to confirm your draconian decision.

The Privacy pane also includes the Prevent Cross-Site Tracking check box, which works . . . sometimes. Unfortunately, it’s up to a particular website whether to honor Safari’s request for privacy.

Also, some sites — such as Amazon.com — use tracking legitimately to keep track of your likes and purchases each time you return. Apple includes Intelligent Tracking Prevention to Safari; this feature is automatic and works behind the scenes, helping prevent unwanted intrusion into your browsing history. If you’re especially worried about leaving a trail of breadcrumbs behind you on the web, select this check box.

Finally, you can use the websites tab of Safari Preferences to limit websites’ access to your MacBook’s Location Services feature, which can pinpoint your current location. Facebook’s website, for example, uses Location Services if you allow it to do so. Access can be set through prompting, or you can deny access to Location Services for all websites.

Banish pesky iCloud Keychain passwords

Catalina uses keychains to automatically provide all sorts of login information throughout your MacBook’s system. In Safari, for example, the password information is automatically entered for you whenever a website you’ve approved requires you to log in.

To be more specific, many readers will adopt iCloud Keychain, which stores password and credit-card information for Safari and wirelessly distributes that information automatically to other Macs and iOS devices that use the same Apple ID. Apple even says that the passwords generated by iCloud Keychain are more complex and harder to crack, which sounds more secure, right?

Security experts would rather keep a pet piranha in a cereal bowl than use this feature! Why? Whenever you’re logged in, anyone who’s using your MacBook gets control of your online persona (in the form of your passwords to secure websites). Safari, like an obedient puppy, automatically provides access to sites with stored keychain passwords.

If you’d like to take the far-less-convenient-but-much-safer, old-fashioned route of remembering your passwords yourself, follow this lead: Visit the Apple ID pane in System Preferences, click the iCloud entry on the left side of the dialog, and deselect the Keychain check box to turn the iCloud Keychain feature off.

Now that you’ve been warned you thoroughly, it’s time to mention the Passwords tab of Safari’s Preferences dialog for those who do decide to use iCloud Keychain. On the Passwords tab, you can view the iCloud Keychain information that Safari uses and remove a specific password or all passwords from your iCloud Keychain.

Handling your MacBook’s history

As you might imagine, your MacBook’s History file leaves a very clear set of footprints indicating where you’ve been on the web. To delete the contents of the History menu, choose History→Clear History (at the bottom of the History menu).

Safari also allows you to specify an amount of time to retain entries in your History file. Open the Safari Preferences dialog, click the General tab, and then make a choice from the Remove History Items pop-up menu to specify the desired amount of time. Items can be rolled off daily, weekly, biweekly, monthly, or yearly. You can also turn off automatic removal.

Setting notifications on your MacBook

In Catalina, Safari can allow websites you’ve approved to send you messages through your MacBook’s Notification Center. The website tab of Safari’s Preferences dialog controls which sites are given this functionality.

To prevent a website from sending notifications, click the Notifications entry in the list on the left side of the dialog, and choose Deny from the drop-down menu next to the offending site. You can also remove a website from the list by clicking it and then clicking the Remove button.

Avoiding those annoying pop-up ads on your MacBook

Most people hate pop-up ads. To block many of those pop-up windows that advertise everything from low-rate mortgages to “sure-thing” Internet casinos, open the Safari Preferences dialog on your MacBook, click the websites tab, and select the Pop-up Windows entry in the list on the left side. Now you can allow or block pop-up ads for each website you visit!

About This Article

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About the book author:

Mark L. Chambers has been a technical author, computer consultant, BBS sysop, programmer, and hardware technician for more than 30 years. An unabashed Mac enthusiast, he has written more than 30 computer books, most about the Mac. They include MacBook All-in-One For Dummies, 2nd Edition, and Macs For Seniors For Dummies, 3rd Edition.

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