Privacy Tools

  • In the course of writing my book, Dragnet Nation, I tried various strategies to protect my privacy. In this series of book excerpts and adaptations, I distill the lessons from my privacy experiments into tips for readers.

    Dragnet Nation cover art

    Encrypt What You Can

    You don’t have to be a programmer to encrypt your data. Here are techniques anybody can use to protect their privacy online.

    How to Mask Your Location

    Location is one of the most revealing pieces of information about us. Here are tips to keep the location of your mobile devices and Web browser private.

    How to Safely Browse the Web

    One of the easiest things you can do to protect your privacy is to be a smarter Web browser. I tested software to find the best ways to avoid being tracked.

    Tips to Build Better Passwords

    The most common password is 12345.  I found tools to create passwords that are both secure and easy to remember.

    Opting Out From Data Brokers

    I identified over 200 data brokers that track your information, and the steps required to remove yourself from their databases.

    Protecting Your Kids’ Privacy Online

    Children face intensive tracking online. I used various online tools to teach my kids about protecting their privacy on the Web.

    How I Quit Google

    I decided I needed to go on a Google Diet–and I started by quitting Google Search. I began using tiny search engine called DuckDuckGo that has a zero-data-retention policy

16 comments on “Privacy Tools
  1. Barry says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for the advice – BUT – you never warned us about the several (unnecessary) add-ons which were attempted to be added by WhiteHat Aviator…..!!!

  2. Julia,

    My children are just a few years older than yours. I have been wanting to find a way to equip and motivate parents to protect their children online ever since my son was assigned to do research on Rhode Island in fourth grade and unintentionally discovered inappropriate images of Miss Rhode Island. We learned to protect our children after that, but years later the majority of parents still have no idea how important it is or what tools are available.

    I am finally getting to create a resource to provide parents knowledge of and access to solutions to protect their children’s online and mobile privacy and safety. I’ve found a number of great solutions, but I’m sure there are many more. If there are any you recommend, in addition to those you mentioned in the article you wrote for today’s WSJ, I would sincerely appreciate your input. We are also creating a similar resource for companies to promote security and privacy , so recommendations applying to that group would be greatly welcomed as well.

    I was unable to find you on LinkedIn, but if you have a presence there I would love to connect.

    Thank you for your time. I look forward to your response.

    Best Regards,
    Wendy Richards

    • Megan says:

      Wendy: one way to protect your kids using social media is to have an ongoing dialogue about their privacy settings. A great starting point is to independently audit their settings with an app, such as Privacy Check (for iphone), which tells you what they are over-sharing, without requiring a login.

  3. Lisa says:

    Julia,

    Thanks for this great info, as well as the article in today’s Wall Street Journal. I am now writing to you from within DuckDuckGo. My next task is to replace my passwords. Regarding how to opt out of data brokers, another great source is Michael Bazzell’s book, Hiding From the Internet: Eliminating Personal Information Online. See:
    http://computercrimeinfo.com/book2.html

  4. Todd says:

    I used to do all the things that you recommend. Then I realized that I couldn’t control the bad behavior of other people. Being open and searchable is very liberating.

  5. sridhar says:

    What is your favorite App for password storage.

    Thank you.

    Sridhar

    P.S. I truly enjoyed your interview(s) on NPR this past week.

  6. Rogier says:

    Thank you very much for writing this book!

    I am wandering I you Have you researched the use of VPN services and Proxy’s and what your reasons were to omit them from your book? (Did I miss something?)

    Also what about the idea about “salting” our tracks on the web making the data useless for data miners……

    Recently I also discovered peer to peer email. Therewith curcumventing a 3rd party server. Perhaps in combination with a VPN and / or tor might be a solution.

    Just some thoughts :-)

  7. hogan says:

    Plain old email is peer-to-peer if you and your peer each have your own email server. It’s not p2p if you rely on a central service like Google-Gmail or MS-Hotmail.

    There are pay-for services like xcapsa that provide you with your own email server with encryption meaning it is much more difficult for third parties to access, read and analyze your emails and sell on your data.

  8. Cynthia says:

    I saw your tips on 60 Minutes Overtime. Alas, I have Windows on my computer and White Hat Aviator is for MACs. However I have started using duckduckgo.com No image or video searches there, which I can live without.

    • Deborah says:

      Cynthia, Aviator is now available for Windows. I just installed it last week, and it has performed well.

  9. Doug says:

    How about changing your IPN (Internet Protocol Number) on a weekly basis? Or deleting all your browser cookies regularly? Would those be helpful or worthwhile approaches to creating additional privacy?

  10. Anon says:

    @Wendy Richards:
    If seeing those innocent images of Miss Rhode Island wearing a swimsuit (a sight you can witness on any beach by the way) is a problem for you and your son, then I’d dare say you have a much bigger issues to consider in your life than privacy.

  11. Peter says:

    This seems a really interesting title, but can we please have a Kindle version?

  12. Lance says:

    I loved your book. I am a firm believer in encryption. I think that people need to start using it whenever possible. But it also seems clear that most folks don’t feel a sense of urgency about using it. That is most unfortunate.In regard to the various privacy issues, it’s my contention that if there isn’t a technical solution to safeguarding privacy, there is no solution. I don’t believe that– when it comes to the Internet– that laws will adequately protect us.

  13. M M says:

    These are some good and valid tips but rather disconnected. e.g. you miss the point that everything related to leakage of privacy starts from the propritery operating systems (Windows and iOS) installed on our machines with their known backdoors constantly violating users privacy by sending personal user information to corporate servers. Users need to regain their freedom over their computation that the only way to regain and respect that freedom is to start using Free/Libre’ software. Please refer to FSF.org, the global promoting and protecting users freedom in since 1983.

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Julia’s Work

Julia Angwin specializes in investigative and technology journalism.

Her current primary area of interest is digital tracking and the way in which the digital revolution has enabled surveillance of all kinds. Ms. Angwin pioneered coverage of this area in the What They Know series for The Wall Street Journal.

Ms. Angwin's most recent book, Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance, discusses the impact of surveillance on our society.

In addition to her work on privacy, Ms. Angwin has long written about the technology industry as a whole and provided advice to everyday users in her Decoder column. Her last book, Stealing MySpace, chronicled the rise of online social networks.