Exploring Safari's preferences

Passwords

The Passwords preference is closely related to the Autofill preference we just looked at. When you visit a website that requires you to create a username and password, Safari will prompt you to save that information by default. If you choose to, that information will be stored in something called the keychain. This is OS X’s secure system for storing such data. When you click the Passwords preference, you’ll see the names of any sites you’ve stored usernames and passwords for. Along the left side of the window is the address of the site, the username follows to the right, and finally you see a series of dots, which represent your hidden password. (For security, the number of dots does not correspond to number of characters in your password.)

If you can’t recall a password and you need it for some other purpose (you want to enter it on your iPhone or iPad, for example), enable the Show passwords option. You’ll be prompted for your account password. Enter it, and all the passwords in this window will be exposed. Once you have the password you need, disable that option immediately. Waving your passwords around for all to see is a very bad idea.

It’s also within this window that you can choose to remove passwords. You can remove them all by clicking Remove All, or you can select individual passwords and remove them by clicking the Remove button. When you choose to remove a password, you’re not removing it from the keychain. Rather, you’re simply removing its autofill entry.

Security

Rather than explaining every option in this preference, I’m going to issue a single suggestion: Leave the default settings as they are. These settings will work admirably for new users.

Privacy

It’s within the Privacy preference that you limit how your data is tracked. The gist is this: Websites have the ability to plant small bits of data, called cookies, in your browser. These cookies can be very helpful. For example, a cookie might alert the site that you’ve been there before so it can present you with some information that would appeal directly to you. Or a cookie could preserve a particular view you prefer. But cookies can also be issued by advertisers to track your movements around the Web, which doesn’t thrill everyone.

The Privacy tab lets you configure how and when you’re tracked.

If you like, you can remove all cookies by clicking the Remove All Website Data button. You’ll be asked to confirm that you really want to do this. Agree, and the cookies disappear. (I’ll tell you in a moment why you might not want to do this.) You can also take a gander at the cookies that are currently stored in Safari by clicking the Details button. Do this, and a sheet appears that lists each cookie. If you’d like to remove one, just select it and click the Remove button.

In the ‘Block cookies’ area below, you can choose how to deal with these cookies. By default, Safari will attempt to block cookies from other sites and from advertisers. You can also choose to accept any cookie thrown at you by choosing Always or reject all cookies by enabling the Never option. Note that if you choose Never, some sites won’t work properly because they require cookies. Netflix, for example, requires cookies so that it knows who you are and can present you with current information about your account and queue.

Websites may also ask you for location information. For instance, a shopping site may want to know where you are so that it can direct you to a local store. Using the Limit website access to location services option, you can choose how often you’re prompted for location information—once a day or once only. You can also deny any location information requests by enabling Deny without prompting.

Given the recent revelations about the government tracking our electronic movements, the ‘Website tracking’ option in this window now seems almost quaint. When you enable it, Safari will instruct websites you visit to not track you in any manner. However, they can ignore this request, as their cooperation is entirely voluntary. I switch it on—but then, I also believe in the Tooth Fairy. If you’re similarly naive, feel free to do the same.

Finally, you can prevent search engines from providing suggestions to you. When you enable this option and conduct a Web search (as I explained last week), you won’t see a list of suggestions in the menu that appears below the address/search field.

Safari has some additional preferences, but most of them are unhelpful to new users. Deal with the ones I’ve explained, and you’ll be well on your way to using Safari effectively.

Next week: Safari tips and tricks

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