If you desire more privacy in the digital world we live in, get used to this idea: You will have to work at it. Numerous services help you stop or slow down the relentless tracking of your every online move by the online advertising industry. And a fresh crop of free services is just arriving that can help you more proactively manage your privacy preferences you express on the social and mobile Web.
The good news is there are plenty of helpful tools out there. But if you don't take the initiative to lock down your online privacy, nobody will.
"Consumers are learning that they can't count on the data collectors to give them meaningful control over their data or to help them prevent oversharing," says Jim Brock, vice president of privacy products at anti-malware company AVG.
AVG's PrivacyFix is a free consumer tool that limits online tracking and also monitors the myriad privacy settings that can give Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and others the green light to widely harvest and exploit much of your personal data.
Meanwhile, Abine, maker of the widely used DoNotTrackMe blocking tool, recently launched MaskMe, a free service that makes it simple to obscure your true e-mail address, phone number and credit card account numbers while conducting Web transactions.
"We believe consumers should have full transparency about how their data is being collected and used," Abine CEO Bill Kerrigan says. "Our vision is to give consumers far more control in that equation than they've enjoyed in the past."
MyPermissions Cleaner is another new tool designed to help you monitor, as well as proactively manage, the permissions policies for social-media sites and popular apps.
Too Easily Overlooked
The sheer volume of overlapping permissions policies serves to obscure the massive data collection that enables behavior-based advertising. And we now know, thanks to Edward Snowden, that the National Security Agency snoops on this wellspring of consumer behavior data.
MyPermissions Cleaner lets you micromanage which Web sites and apps are cool to collect specific kinds of info. And you can even approve, remove or report the ones the cross the line.
MyPermissions came about after someone gained access to a database of personal information compiled by the developer of a free Twitter app.
Among the information this app routinely gathered and stored was Twitter account logons for all its users, including MyPermissions co-founder Avi Charkham. Long after Charkham stopped using the app, the intruder came along and began using his Twitter account to spam out diet plans to all of Charkham's followers.
Outraged, Charkham and friends, Olivier Amar, David Habusha and Eran Sandler put up a single webpage displaying the permissions pages for the eight top social-media sites. That webpage got 150,000 views in 48 hours -- and spawned the idea for MyPermissions Cleaner.
"We understood that there was a real need for a solution for people to manage their permissions online," says Amar, who's now the company's CEO.
A typical example of oversharing is when you display your birthday, early education or hometown publicly on a profile page, or when you share personal details in status updates.
"We show you specific issues and give suggestions on how to correct those issues," says Voutche co-founder Gabe Velez. "Very simply, we secure your social."
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