1/17/2023: Put privacy on auto-pilot

A super simple privacy tool

Plus: iMessage on Windows, Twitter’s app crackdown, and a slick weather website

If I told you about a free app that automatically stops companies from selling your personal data, you might think it was too good to be true.

But that’s exactly what you get with Permission Slip, a new app from Consumer Reports. You can download it for iOS now, and it’s also coming soon to Android.

Since the passage of the California Consumer Privacy Act in 2018, many companies now let users opt out of having their personal data transferred or sold to third parties. This is a tedious process, though, requiring users to track down the “Do Not Sell” pages or request forms for every company with which they might do business.

Permission Slip automates this ordeal by sending out requests on your behalf. While the app still has its share of blind spots, it’s already sent out dozens of requests on my behalf and has removed me from several data brokers’ databases.

How it works

After signing up for Permission Slip, you’ll be presented with a stack of cards representing different companies. Tapping on each one will show you all the kinds of data they collect, along with two possible options:

  • Opt Out of Sale: This tells the company not to hand over your personal data to third parties for tracking or advertising purposes. Choose this for any company you still do business with.
  • Delete Data: Wipe out your account and all data associated with it. Only choose this if you’ve stopped using a company’s services (or never did to begin with).

The app also has an “Auto” tab that sends out deletion requests in bulk to data brokers such as FullContact and InfoTracer, which you probably don’t want to have your data at all.

Before making a request, you must first provide your name, email, mailing address, phone number, and signature. Unnerving as this may seem, it’s all necessary for Consumer Reports to send out privacy requests on your behalf, and you only have to do it once.

As of now, Permission Slip is completely free, and Consumer Reports says it won’t sell your information or give it to third parties for advertising purposes. While the company’s FAQ page suggests that it may offer a subscription, it’s not yet clear what those will be.

The results

As you might expect, companies aren’t exactly clamoring to let go of your data. Most of the requests I’ve sent are still pending a week later, and some companies have denied my requests, either because they claim not have any data on me or because they only honor requests from Californians.

Some companies might also ask you to jump through extra hoops outside of Permission Slip’s purview. T-Mobile, for instance, sent me an email with additional links to follow, and Ancestry.com said that as a non-Californian, I’d have to provide specific links to records I wanted gone.

For the most part, though, Permission Slip works as advertised. All it really needs is support for more services and data brokers, and I assume those will be added over time along with the aforementioned Android app.

The thing about opt-outs and data deletion requests is that in most cases they don’t provide a clear, tangible benefit. You merely have a bit more satisfaction knowing fewer companies are passing your data around, which in turn means you might see fewer creepy targeted ads.

That small benefit might not be worth the effort if you have to submit separate requests for every site. By making the process extremely easy, Permission Slip has made a little more privacy worth pursuing for everyone.

More privacy tools to try

  • Simple Opt Out is a great website that links directly to the privacy options and “Do Not Sell” forms for dozens of major companies.
  • Apple now requires iOS apps to let you delete your accounts through the apps themselves. If you can’t get your account deleted through a company’s website, installing their app may be the easiest way.
  • Kanary looks up where your personal data has been published online and provides links to opt out. Automatic removal requires a paid subscription, similar to other services such as DeleteMe.
  • Consider using masked email addresses so that marketers can’t profile you based on your actual email.

Jared Newman here! I hope you’re enjoying this free issue of Advisorator, my weekly newsletter for tech advice, tips, and deals.

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Need to know

Twitter’s app crackdown: Late last week, third-party Twitter clients such as Tweetbot and Twitterific stopped working. Neither Twitter nor its new owner Elon Musk have acknowledged the move, but a report by The Information says the cutoff was intentional. These apps are notable for offering chronological feeds with no ads, even as Twitter emphasizes algorithmic timelines and more ads.

Meanwhile, it’s been exciting to see developers coalesce around Mastodon, the decentralized Twitter alternative that I’ve been using more often lately. That trend seems likely to accelerate now that Twitter is actively pushing those developers away.

Apple’s new Windows apps: A few years after discontinuing iTunes on the Mac, Apple appears to be phasing it out for Windows as well. The company has released “preview” versions of its Apple Music and Apple TV apps in the Microsoft Store, along with an Apple Devices app for backing up iPhones and iPads.

Just note that installing the new apps will disable the old iTunes app, which at present is still required for accessing Apple’s podcast and audiobook services on a PC.

OneDrive upgrades: Microsoft has revamped its 100 GB OneDrive storage plan and is changing its name to “Microsoft 365 Basic.” For the same $2 per month as before, you also get ad-free Outlook for the web and mobile devices (the latter became more ad-ridden last year), along with data encryption, suspicious link screening, and virus scanning for attachments. More security features are coming to the Basic tier later this year, including unlimited support for OneDrive’s Personal Vault feature.

The pricier Microsoft 365 Personal plan remains the best deal in cloud storage, at $70 per year with a 1 TB of OneDrive space and the full Office suite, plus you can often get it for less. But with Apple and Google adding more perks to their basic cloud storage plans, it makes sense for Microsoft to rustle up some extra benefits of its own.

Tip of the moment

iMessage (and more) on Windows: A few years ago, Dell released a neat feature that enabled iPhone text messaging from within the Windows desktop. Now, a successor to that app is available on any Windows 11 PC, no Dell required.

It’s called Intel Unison, and while it’s only supposed to run on certain Intel-powered laptops, Windows Central reports that it works on any computer running Windows 11. I’ve got it running on my Lenovo Yoga C940 laptop from 2019, and it’s a revelation.

To set it up, download the Intel Unison app for Windows, then grab the companion app for iOS. (It’s also available for Android, as an alternative to Microsoft’s built-in “Your Phone” utility.) The Windows app will then walk you through a few steps to pair your phone and PC.

Once you’ve done that, you can send and receive text messages from your computer, including those delivered via iMessage. The app also lets you view your phone’s camera roll, send files to your phone, make phone calls through your desktop, and see your phone’s notifications.

There is one big limitation: Instead of syncing your full message history, Unison only shows the messages that you receive while the app is open. Still, it’s useful for picking up a conversation without reaching for your phone, and for quickly rattling off replies with a proper keyboard.

The real downside is that I now have to rethink my decision not to upgrade to Windows 11 on my desktop computer.

Now try this

A slick weather site: If you’re still lamenting the demise of Dark Sky, an alternative called Merry Sky may scratch the same itch. It offers a seven-day forecast with charts showing when to expect rain on each day, and it’s entirely ad-free. While Merry Sky isn’t in the App Store or Google Play, you can always add the website to your home screen on iOS or Android, effectively turning it into a standalone app.

A geekier alternative: I also learned this week that you can look up the weather from inside the command prompt in Windows, or from the terminal in MacOS or Linux. Just type “curl wttr.in/yourcity” (without quotes) into the command line, and you’ll get a three-day forecast in a delightfully DOS-like view.

Bonus points if you can manage to create your own desktop shortcut for loading the forecast with one click.

Around the web

Spend wisely

Need a bunch of storage for backup or media server purposes? WD’s 14TB EasyStore external desktop hard drive is on sale for $200, matching Black Friday pricing. Plug it into any computer to greatly expand your available storage.

Other notable deals:

Thanks for your support!

Quick note for any fellow Brave browser users who’ve enabled vertical tabs on my advice: If you’re no longer seeing this feature, just right-click any tab and select “Vertical Tabs” from the dropdown menu. I had to do this myself after a recent browser update—just one of the joys of using pre-release features.

Got tech questions for me? Just reply to this email to get in touch.

Until next week,

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