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Must-know privacy tips for Google, Facebook and other online services

Ian Paul | Oct. 28, 2013
Explore encryption, scrutinize your settings, and consider alternative services that are more discreet than the majors.

Another solution is to replace what Google services you can with more private alternatives. Do you use Google Docs but don't really need its online capabilities? Try the open-source Libre Office suite. If you need only basic image-editing capabilities, skip Picasa and stick to What about Google Drive's on-the-go docs? We'll talk more about cloud storage later.

And if you can cut the Google cord completely, there's always the nuclear option

Google may have a wide reach, but when it comes to mapping your social connections, no company knows more than Facebook. And just like Google, Facebook is practically impossible to shut out of your life. You need it to sign in to your favorite services, play games, chat, and keep in touch with pals.

Tweaking your Facebook profile's privacy settings can keep other people's eyes at bay—but Facebook itself has a reputation for questionable user data decisions. How to give Zuck the cold shoulder without divorcing Facebook completely?

Easy: Stop hitting that "Like" button so much and consider removing past thumbs-ups. Don't add extra information to your profile such as life events, places you've lived, and so on. 

Finally, decide whether you want to continue sharing your photo library online. Is anybody really looking at them, or are they just fodder for Facebook's face-detection algorithms?

Facebook also tracks you as you travel from site to site, using the Like buttons embedded on each. Make sure you're signed out of Facebook to prevent that from happening, or use your browser's private mode.

You can delete your Facebook account if you're able (and willing) to cut the socialite cord completely.

Cloud storage
If you slap your files in a cloud-storage locker for anytime, anywhere access, you probably don't want to give up that convenience. You can, however, seize control of your cloud documents by encrypting them, which helps protect against the data breaches (such as two that happened to Dropbox and Apple) and government information requests faced by many cloud providers.

Note that while many services (such as Dropbox) encrypt your data on their servers, they control the encryption keys in most cases. That means you are not in control of when or for whom that encrypted data is unlocked, but it also makes using the service easier—just enter your login information and go!

A truly "zero-knowledge" cloud provider such as SpiderOak or Wuala, on the other hand, never has access to your encryption key, meaning that only you can unlock your data. (Don't lose the key!) Alternatively, you could manually encrypt files bound for SkyDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, SugarSync, or any other cloud service, using a tool like TrueCrypt or the cloud-focused BoxCryptor.


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