If you work remotely and reach a data limit or in the field using your phone as an access point, we recommend that you reduce the use of data on your Mac. Here are some ideas on how to do this.
Remote workers who use Macs on high-cost limited data plans or in the field using a smartphone to connect may need to reduce the data they use. Here are some ideas to help you get there.
Disable automatic macOS updates
For the purposes of this article, I will assume that you have already upgraded your Mac to the latest version of macOS. This is the right thing to do, but it can swallow the remaining data, so you should turn off macOS automatic updates. Your Mac will automatically download and install macOS updates. It’s fine most of the time, but when you get to the end of the monthly data allocation or use a Mac to work out of nowhere, it’s a potential no-no. Here’s how to turn off automatic downloads on your Mac:
Open System Preferences> Software Updates
Choose Advanced and uncheck Download new updates when available.
What this means is that you will need to manually download and install Mac software updates when they are available through System Preferences> Software Update, giving you the ability to do so at a time that suits you.
Disable automatic application updates
The apps you download through the App Store are updated and will automatically update by default. You can end this.
- Open the App Store on your Mac
- Open App Store Preferences (Command-,) from the application menu.
- Uncheck Automatic Updates.
- If you think you might be able to browse the App Store while dealing with restricted bandwidth, you can turn off automatic video playback.
- Open the activity monitoring and force exit applications
- Press Command-Space and search for «Activity Monitor» or find the hidden application in Utilities in the Applications folder. When the Activity Monitor opens, go to the Network tab and quickly scan the list of applications in the Process Name list. If you see app names that you recognize that you know have already come out, select the app name and then tap the X button at the top left of the circled i. This will come out of this process.
You may not see a recognized application name that you are not actively using, but sometimes you may encounter an application that you have closed that continues to run in a suspended state in the background. Don’t spend too much time on this; you just need to check the software that consumes large amounts of data.
You should also make sure that you close any applications that you do not use, as many of them now send and receive small amounts of data during use.
NB: Activity Monitor is also a useful tool for monitoring network usage in all applications on your computer. Just click Send bytes and / or Rcvd to identify applications that are consuming data.
Check your email manually
At home, I like to check my email automatically, but not when I’m working to save bandwidth.
Open Mail> Preferences (Command-,) and open the General panel.
Now set the «Search for new messages» drop-down menu to Manual.
Although you will still use bandwidth when checking your email, you will have at least some control over when you need to use this data. In the extreme, it makes sense to use browser-based webmail systems, leaving your email application turned off. Webmail still uses some bandwidth, but doesn’t usefully download attachments until prompted.
Take control of iCloud
ICloud Sync is one of the big selling points in the entire Apple ecosystem. It’s what ensures that all your data stays available on all your devices. I think it’s great, but when you want to save a bit of bandwidth, you can turn it off for the most data consuming. (If you’re using iCloud Drive for work, we recommend keeping it running. But you need to consider the data created and uploaded / downloaded for anything you create on your Mac.)
Open System Preferences and select your Apple ID. Select iCloud and see the list of apps that use iCloud. You should disable synchronization for the applications that consume the most data. I tend to keep contacts, calendars, and reminders to a minimum, as functionality can outweigh the low cost of data.
Reduce video quality
If you’re using your Mac for business, the tip may be duck water, but it will reduce bandwidth by avoiding video streaming. This means stopping automatic playback in the applications you use (how you do this varies by application). It also means, if possible, reducing the quality of the video.
In Music, open Preferences> Playback and set the Video playback quality to Good (smaller files).
Notifications also use data. Disable them in System Preferences> and set Show previews to Never. You also need to click the clock in the menu bar on your Mac to put your computer in Do Not Disturb mode. It’s not a big data cut, but it can help.
These Siri requests generally require data to be uploaded and downloaded between the Siri servers on your Mac and Apple. If you want to reduce data usage, you’ll want to turn off Ask Siri, no matter what great voice you’ve chosen. Open System Preferences> Siri and uncheck «Enable Ask Siri» under the Siri icon there.
Stop your Mac from sending data home
Apple collects Mac usage and diagnostic data. Apple, which recently delayed the launch of its controversial CSAM protection measure, says this is perfectly safe. It is also said that the collection of this data is designed to help developers and Apple itself create better applications. However, the process uses bandwidth, so you may want to turn it off.
Open system preferences;
- Touch the privacy panel;
- In the Diagnostics and Usage section, uncheck Send Diagnostics and Usage Data to Apple, and also uncheck Lock Data with app developers.
Look for malware
If you’re unlucky enough to have noticed one of Mac’s ever-growing army malware infections, you may find that the amount of data you use seems to increase, despite what you do to control it. This is why you need to run a malware removal tool to detect and destroy these things. Malwarebytes, Sophos Home and Avast Security offer free versions of their tools that should help you keep your computer healthy.
Avoid social networks (especially Facebook)
Social applications like to capture data about you which then magically turns into dollars. Facebook seems particularly interested in doing this. If you need to check your social networks, please do so. But don’t forget to leave the website after you’re done. Better yet, restart your browser to protect yourself against any social media-related «background processes» that may «improve» your experience.
Advanced tip: Use content caching
If you have more than one device in your network with limited bandwidth, you can try using cached content. This reduces bandwidth usage by storing software updates, applications, and other content on your Mac, which can then be accessed by other Macs (and sometimes iOS devices) on the same wired or Wi-Fi network. (Mac software updates may require a one-time download to share with all devices in your family.) As you’d expect, you’ll find this feature in System Preferences:
Check the cached content in the list of services;
You will need to restart all devices.
You can also monitor the amount of cached content that your network devices have uploaded and downloaded over time to Activity Monitor.
Once the bandwidth recovers, don’t forget to change all these features again to regain the full functionality of your computer.
Do you have any additional tips to help reduce data usage on a Mac? Let me know via one of the social feeds below.