Make Spotlight Private Again in OS X Yosemite

Saturday, October 18, 2014

When Apple introduced OS X Yosemite at WWDC 2014 they demoed a brand new and improved Spotlight. Everything about it I liked, but I was concerned about the Spotlight Suggestions and Bing Web Search features. Obviously to use those features your keystrokes have to be sent to a server somewhere and processed. I did not want that. I quickly remembered what happened when Canonical released Dash in Ubuntu. At the very least, Apple needed to offer a way to turn this functionality off.

Luckily, they do.

The fix is easy enough. Open System Preferences, go to Spotlight, and under the Search Results tab uncheck the following things:

  • Spotlight Suggestions
  • Bing Web Searches

In the same System Preferences pane, I would recommend clicking the About Spotlight Suggestions & Privacy button in the lower right and reading the couple of paragraphs.

To show some proof of all this, Landon Fuller used sslsplit to show Spotlight sending your keystrokes to Apple.

If you have a whole lot of Yosemite machines you want to make these changes to, Fuller created a Python script to make these changes in one command.

You can further turn off unneeded features by performing the following steps:

  1. Going back to the main System Preferences screen
  2. Going to Security & Privacy
  3. Clicking the Privacy tab
  4. Clicking Location Services
  5. Unlocking the pane by clicking the lock icon in the lower left
  6. Clicking Details next to System Services
  7. And finally, unchecking Spotlight Suggestions

This probably doesn’t do anything if Spotlight Suggestions is already turned off, but it offers peace of mind.

Additionally, if you use Safari, open it, go to Preferences, then go to the Search tab and perform the following steps:

  1. Uncheck Include search engine suggestions
  2. Uncheck Include Spotlight Suggestions
  3. Uncheck Enable Quick Website Search
  4. Uncheck Preload Top Hit in the background

Update 2014-10-20: Apple has updated their Privacy page. It’s worth a read.


How Spotlight Suggestions Handles Privacy

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