Silence Unknown Callers On iPhone

My Approach to Managing Incoming Calls

For me, my phone is more about being a gateway to a world of digital information and interaction, than being a ‘phone’. Traditional phone calls, especially from unknown numbers, can be a source of interruption and even anxiety, at times. With iOS 13, Apple introduced a feature titled Silence Unknown Callers which I embraced right away, and still actively use about 99% of the time. This feature automatically silences calls from numbers not found in my Contacts, or mentioned in Messages. It directs them to my voicemail, allowing me to review missed calls at my convenience. At first I wondered: Is it acceptable to insist unknown callers leave a voicemail, and would this practice be considered rude, if they find out?

Navigating the Unknown with Courtesy

When an unknown number calls my iPhone when the Silence Unknown Callers feature is enabled, their call is quietly sent to voicemail without ringing. This ensures that only callers from my contacts or people with whom I have previously interacted, can reach me directly. Missed calls from unknown numbers still appear in my Recent Calls list, offering me the chance to return important calls I may have missed, at a later time. This approach significantly reduces random and potentially disruptive calls, and I love it. Obviously, I do not want to miss important calls from unknown but legitimate sources, such as doctors’ offices, potential employers, or service providers.

The Etiquette of Call Filtering

At first glance, filtering calls by sending unknown callers directly to voicemail might seem impersonal or dismissive. However, in a time where spam calls are rampant, managing my availability is critical to maintaining my sanity. I believe that it is not rude to prioritize my peace and productivity. We often hear mental health professionals talking about setting boundaries. Most modern people, including my clients and service providers, should understand the necessity of such a feature in our digitally saturated lives.

Will Important Callers Leave a Message?

The effectiveness of this approach largely depends on the willingness of callers to leave a voicemail for me. Determined callers, especially those with a legitimate reason, are likely to leave a message explaining their purpose. As expected, this tiny bit of friction filters out spam callers from unknown numbers who are less likely to make the extra effort. For me, it is a way to ensure that if an unknown caller’s call to me was truly important, I can expect a voicemail waiting for me.

The Balance Between Convenience and Accessibility

While the idea of never receiving another spam call is appealing, there’s a valid concern about missing critical calls from unfamiliar numbers. Important communication from new clients, or a healthcare provider, might initially come from unknown numbers. This necessitates a balanced approach! I respond to legitimate voicemails and missed calls to ensure I do not miss out on essential communication.

In conclusion, silencing unknown callers on my iPhone is not about cutting off communication, but managing it more effectively. It’s a tool that, when used wisely, can reduce distractions while ensuring that important calls are not missed. As with any tool, its success depends on the user’s diligence. I suspect I may have lost a small number of potential clients, or not heard from someone who could have enriched my life.

Being the reliable communicator that I am, I navigate the fine line between being accessible and keeping my door open for essential communication. Silencing unknown callers on my iPhone, makes me even more able to respond to those people who really need to speak to me. This blissful outcome does not require third-party apps or any subscriptions. For another kind of bliss, learn when and how to use an email alias.

Like you, my mobile number gets hammered by spam callers. Would you believe that marketers never leave their elevator pitch as a voicemail to me? It is important that my voicemail greeting be clear. And, I always respond to the small number of voicemails that callers leave for me. If you have a similar approach, there is no reason why you can not also Silence Unknown Callers on your iPhone, and still be perfectly reachable.

When Not to Use Your Email Address!

Navigating Privacy in the Digital World

Online services are a staple of modern daily lives, from social media platforms to your many subscription-based utilities. And, most services require that you sign up with an email address. This simple requirement can have unforeseen consequences on your privacy and security. Using your primary email address is more risky than you imagine, even when it seems to be more convenient.

Why not improve your privacy security with Fastmail? It encourages safeguarding your personal information. It would hardly be any extra effort, if you were to make taking an extra step part of your personal privacy routine, every time when you sign up for a new online service. Not using your primary email address is a minor extra step in what already feels like a digital labyrinth to navigate.

The Risks of Using Your Primary Email Address

Using your primary email address exposes you to several risks when you sign up for a new or unknown service. Cultivate a privacy mindset. You would not want to make it easier for your personal information to become accessible to even more potential data brokers, right? Unintended data breaches are becoming increasingly common, which puts our sensitive information at risk of being compromised. The influx of spam email, whether they are overwhelming or simply annoying, is the result of our primary email addresses being passed on.

And, the difficulty in disconnecting myself from services and providers I no longer use (or trust), is enough reason to wish for me to had never given out my primary email address in the first place. This was indeed how I used to operate a long time ago, before I improved my privacy security with Fastmail.

The Case for Email Aliases

One effective strategy to mitigate the mentioned risks and annoyances, is to use email aliases whenever possible. Adopting this approach allows you to maintain control over your online interactions, without exposing your primary email address to potential privacy violations. To me, this is just as important to my sanity as blocking unwanted callers from getting through to me on my iPhone. While this (phone) point is off topic, I mention it because this specific setting ensures that I only receive calls from my Contacts and people whom I have, in fact, called before. Similar to cutting down on potential email spam, this iPhone setting cuts down on interactions with people who want to solicit something from me.

Increased Control and Enhanced Privacy

Email aliases act as a buffer between your real email address and the online world, giving you the power to easily sever ties with services. This separation not only enhances your privacy by keeping your primary email address out of the hands of third parties but also reduces the likelihood of your information being shared with data brokers and advertisers. Fastmail is a great vehicle for improving your overall privacy security. To become even more safe, learn how to silence unknown callers on your iPhone.

Practical Solutions and Best Practices

The most practical and straightforward solution is utilizing email aliases. My favourite provider for a paid email service where you would truly be the customer (and not the product) is Fastmail. They offer users the ability to create multiple aliases designed to funnel email back to their primary email inbox. They make it easy to create email aliases, and if necessary, to delete them afterwards. This is the simplest way to prevent unwanted persistent communication from any online service that you may have walked away from. By using an alias, you can sign up for new or unknown services with peace of mind, knowing that you can easily delete the alias if the service no longer serves you or if privacy concerns arise.

Conclusion

In our interconnected digital world, protecting your personal information is more important than ever before. While using your primary email address for online services may seem like a small matter, it can have significant implications for your privacy and security. By adopting the practice of using email aliases, you can safeguard your digital footprint, ensuring a cleaner inbox and a more secure online presence.

We must strike a balance between convenience and privacy, when we engage with online services. It is a bit overwhelming, but taking proactive steps to protect our personal information is becoming increasingly important. The use of email aliases represents a simple yet effective strategy in maintaining control over who has access to our personal information and how it gets used.

A year ago, I wrote LastPass breach — should you move on?, wherein I expressed my preference for Bitwarden, as a great password manager. That is still my position, and I have assisted many people in their journey to adopt it.

If you were to sign up for Fastmail’s privacy-first email service, I would not be making any money from you clicking on the link. Go ahead and try it for free for up to 30 days, no obligation and no credit card required. Make your smart first move in walking away from using a free email service — you know there is no such thing as free, there is always a cost of some sort, even when no actual money comes out of your wallet… In my experience, everyone has always been happy that they explored it, and they all stayed on it.

Once you are on Fastmail, experiment with email aliases and masked email addresses, and note that these concepts are not quite the same thing. It can even import all your existing email effortlessly!

If you are looking to secure your online interactions, there is no better way than using Fastmail and Bitwarden to start navigating privacy in the digital world.

The Meta Pixel Allows Sites To Track You

Meta Pixel used to be known as Facebook Pixel

You are welcome to email me if you want to hire my services. Together we could minimize how social media tracks your online activities, if you hire my services.

The Meta Pixel is a snippet of JavaScript code that allows websites to track visitors’ activity. According to this Meta Developers Document, it loads a small library of functions to track various actions that a visitor might make on a website.

Meta refers to these interactions (where website visitor’s actions are being tracked), as ‘conversions’. Tracked conversions appear in Meta’s Ads Manager where they can be used to measure the effectiveness of their ads. Conversations are useful in ‘ad targeting’, used for defining custom audiences and analyzing the effectiveness of their ‘ad campaigns’.

Facebook caught collecting information

The article called Facebook and Anti-Abortion Clinics Are Collecting Highly Sensitive Info on Would-Be Patients was posted on June 15 (2022) by Grace Oldham and Dhruv Mehrotra. Below is my brief overview of their compelling findings, unless you want to read their original article on The Markup.

They demonstrated that more than a third of the websites in question sent data to Facebook when someone made an appointment for an ‘abortion consultation’ or ‘pre-termination screening’. And, at least 39 sites actually sent Facebook details such as the person’s name, email address, or phone number.

How does Meta actually track us? In the mentioned article, Facebook and crisis pregnancy centers were using the data that ‘the pixel’ collects… Grace created a new Facebook profile in late April solely for this investigation. While logged in to Facebook, she visited the 294 crisis pregnancy center websites known to use ‘the pixel’ for tracking. And, she was clicking through each website and, when available, filling out appointment request forms. To minimize tracking, she conducted her research using a clean browser with cleared browsing cache.

In early May, Grace and Dhruv used Meta’s Privacy Center to download and review the data of the clean Facebook account. They found that Facebook retained data about her interactions with 88 percent of those crisis pregnancy center websites. They were also linking her online behaviour to her Facebook profile.

Facebook does not have an incentive to crack down on violations of its advertising policies. That costs them money to do. As long as they’re not legally obligated to do so, why would they expend any resources to fix this? The more data they get, the more targeted advertising they can do, and that’s the gravy train for them: targeted ads. If they’re proactive about cutting off sites like that, it impacts their revenue in multiple ways.

Serge Egelman, research director of the Usable Security & Privacy Group (UC Berkeley’s International Computer Science Institute)
Facebook explains the Meta Pixel

On their website, Facebook says: “If you’re logged into Facebook and visit a website with the Like button, your browser sends us information about your visit.

And: “If you’re logged out or don’t have a Facebook account and visit a website with the Like button or another social plugin, your browser sends us a more limited set of info.

Thanks to the Facebook Pixel, Meta is tracking everyone!

DuckDuckGo desktop browser

As a Mac user, I use the DuckDuckGo desktop browser app for Mac. I do that to minimize websites from tracking me. While the DDG browser uses the DDG search engine by default, one could change it to use another search engine of your choice. One could opt for the Google search engine for instance.

On the rare occasion that I may want to see a different set of search results (in the DDG browser), I would actually ‘use the Google search engine’ in my DDG desktop browser. Google arranges my search results to benefit their paying advertisers, not me. Obviously, I am their product, as would be the case with Facebook as well. It is not surprising that they are tracking my activities.

Even so, it does happen sometimes that I have a need to see another set of search results. I would not change my browser’s search engine setting, when this happens. I would simply type ‘google.com’ in the address bar of my DDG browser. Doing so would take me to https://www.google.com/. Thus, I would be using Google’s native search engine, embedded on their search page. Google can indeed track my search activity on their site. In this case, that level of tracking would be inevitable. I limit all the other forms of tracking as much as possible, for this very reason.

At that point, an unsolicited popup would remind me that ‘Google recommends using Chrome’, and that I could ‘more easily search on Google with their fast, secure browser’. I am steadfast and not lured by such proposed (popup) distractions. I use the DDG desktop browser for its tracking protection in the first place.

Why do I use several browsers?

I use different browsers for different purposes, always optimized to limit the relentless tracking by the Meta Pixel and other trackers. I containerize activities into certain browsers. My personal favourite is the Brave browser. It is safe out of the box, but takes a bit of tuning to suppress some annoying things that I don’t need to see. I will write a ‘How To’ guide for this at some point…

Since I administer several Google Workspace accounts, I use the Chrome browser for that purpose. And, I do all my website administration and upgrades in the Vivaldi browser. While it also requires a bit tuning to suppress some features that I don’t use, it is lovely.

Google or Microsoft are usually the ones who attempt to lure me into switching to their browser… I do not appreciate that when I am inside any of the browsers that I use frequently. And also not when I am simply just using the DDG desktop browser. I use the DDG browser because it limits unsolicited tracking!

If you are not on a regular Mac user, there are other ways that you could get DDG protection. If you don’t want to wait for DDG’s Windows browser app to be released, add the DuckDuckGo Browser Extension to your browser. Or, you could install and use the DuckDuckGo Mobile App.

How Does the DuckDuckGo App/Extension Protect My Privacy? should answer any DDG questions you may have… DDG is great, but it is only one possible way to ensure that websites are not tracking you online…

Other private browsing options

You could use the Firefox browser and add the uBlock Origin browser extension.

uBlock is a free and open-source, cross-platform browser extension for content filtering, primarily aimed at neutralizing privacy invasion in an efficient, user-friendly method. And, if you’re going to be doing this, why not then also use Firefox’s Facebook Container add-on browser extension?

This add-on isolates Meta sites (including Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger) from the rest of your web surfing experience. It is an elegant alternative for setting boundaries for Facebook and other Meta websites, and limits effectively ‘where Meta can track you’.

You can further improve your security profile if you stop saving your passwords in your browser!

Move any saved passwords over to a proper password vault. Before 2023, I would have advised that you move to LastPass, but now I recommend that existing LastPass users move on ASAP. I am not getting affiliate commission for recommending Bitwarden, I simply trust them with the responsibility of keeping my password vaults secure!

LastPass breach — should you move on?

I used to use LastPass as my password vault

I was urging my clients and family to use LastPass as their password vault. If you were one of these people, you probably know this did not end very well… and you could email me if you would rather hire my services, to handle this for you.

LastPass has not been handling their latest security breach in a manner that makes me confident that they are protecting everyone’s password vault! On December 22nd, 2022, their update said that “the threat actor copied information from backup that contained basic customer account information and related metadata including company names, end-user names, billing addresses, email addresses, telephone numbers, and the IP addresses from which customers were accessing the LastPass service.”

It is safe to assume the attackers would have obtained the metadata associated with every user’s account! This makes future potential attempts to use brute-force decryption to crack open users’ accounts an undeniable possibility.

MOVE ON to another Password Manager

I prefer Bitwarden for my own use, although Dashlane and 1Password are excellent alternatives to my choice. I have used most Password Managers available, and any one (that is trustworthy) is better than thinking up ‘your own’ passwords, and writing them down. As a human, you cannot create passwords with enough entropy, i.e. not complicated enough — use a Password Manager!

Bitwarden is based on open source technology, which means they are being scrutinized every step of the way, unlike the proprietary (secret) technologies that almost every of their competitor cling to.

For me, Bitwarden is the easiest way to secure all of your passwords and sensitive information, and they provide a tool to import password vaults from other providers.

Do not reuse your old master password

Create a new master password, and then change all the passwords inside your newly established password vault. Since your old password vault was most likely among those which were downloaded, the attackers will keep it on a hard-drive until one of their minions can crack into it, one day…

You want to be sure that when that happens, every password in your old password vault will have been replaced with a new randomly created one.

Create an impressive master password

I recommend taking a line from one of your favourite books, and modifying it…

Remembering a sentence (that you could even highlight in an actual book) to reference, is relatively simple. Just be sure you join the words with a symbol, such as a hyphen or an ‘!’, and then capitalize the first letter in some of words, and add a few numbers and symbols.

THE LONGER IT IS THE SAFER YOU ARE

For instance, if you used this sentence (out of some book): The Bluebells represent the Party and Winston and Julia’s love affair.

And then converted it into: The-Bluebells-Represent-The-Party&Winston&Julia’s-love-affair-44 — to become the string of characters you use as your new password.

In the example above…
  1. the ‘blank spaces‘ became hyphens
  2. he word ‘and‘ became the symbol ‘&
  3. the number ‘44’ represents some year that is special for you — do not use your birth year
THIS WOULD BE A SAFE PASSWORD

Once you think you have come up with a password you can remember, why not test it at Security.org’s How secure is my password? Make sure it is in fact, good enough to protect your new password vault.

Do not settle for any password for which the results suggest that a computer might take less than 1 million years to crack it.

In the same vein, do you know about the Norton LifeLock breach?