Learn what's private online (not much)—and what to do about it!

Take Control of
Your Online Privacy

Fourth Edition
Joe Kissell

Nowadays, it can be difficult to complete ordinary activities without placing your personal data online, but having your data online puts you at risk for theft, embarrassment, and all manner of trouble. Read this book to find practical advice that ordinary people need to handle common online privacy problems and to develop a sensible online privacy strategy, customized for your needs.

All Take Control books are delivered in three ebook formats—PDF, EPUB, and Mobipocket (Kindle)—and can be read on nearly any device.


Note: A major new edition of this book is planned for the second half of 2022. It will be a free update for anyone who purchases the book between now and then.

Nowadays, it can be difficult to complete ordinary activities without placing your personal data online, but having your data online puts you at risk for theft, embarrassment, and all manner of trouble. In this book, Joe Kissell helps you to develop a sensible online privacy strategy, customized for your needs. Whether you have a Mac or PC, iOS or Android device, set-top box, or some other network-enabled gadget, you’ll find practical advice that ordinary people need to handle common privacy needs (secret agents should look elsewhere).

You’ll learn how to enhance the privacy of your internet connection, web browsing, email messages, online chatting, social media interactions, and file sharing, as well as your mobile phone or tablet, and Internet of Things devices like webcams and thermostats. Parents will find important reminders about protecting a child’s privacy. The book also includes Joe’s carefully researched VPN recommendations.

The book is packed with sidebars that help you get a handle on current topics in online privacy, including international travel, quantum computing, why you should beware of VPN reviews online, two-factor authentication, privacy and your ISP, understanding how ads can track you, and more.

You’ll receive savvy advice about topics such as these:

  • Why worry? Learn who wants your private data, and why they want it. Even if you don’t believe you have anything to hide, you almost certainly do, in the right context. Would you give just anyone your financial records or medical history? Didn’t think so.

  • Set your privacy meter: Develop your own personal privacy rules—everyone has different privacy buttons, and it’s important to figure out which matter to you.

“Joe Kissell nails it. Take Control of Your Online Privacy is a comprehensive and practical guide to protecting your privacy in the digital age. Joe helps you make and implement the right privacy choices for your life.”
—Rich Mogull, CEO of Securosis

  • Manage your Internet connection: Understand privacy risks, prevent snoops by securing your Wi-Fi network, and take key precautions to keep your data from leaking out. Also find advice on using a VPN, plus why you should never believe a VPN review that you read on the Internet—even if it seems like it was written by Joe!

  • Browse and search the web: Learn what is revealed about you when you use the web. Avoid bogus websites, connect securely where possible, control your cookies and history, block ads, browse and search anonymously, and find out who is tracking you. Also, take steps to protect passwords and credit card data.

  • Send and receive email: Find out how your email could be intercepted, consider when you want email to be extra private (such as when communicating with a lawyer), find out why Joe doesn’t recommend email encryption as a solution to ordinary privacy needs (but find pointers for how to get started if you want to try it—or just encrypt an attachment, which is easier), get tips for sending email anonymously, and read ideas for alternatives to email.

  • Talk and chat online: Consider to what extent any phone call, text message, or online chat is private, and find tips for enhancing privacy when using these channels.

  • Watch your social media sharing: Understand the risks and benefits of sharing personal information online (especially on Facebook!), tweak your settings, and consider common-sense precautions.

  • Share files: What if you want to share (or collaborate on) a contract, form, or other document that contains confidential information? Find out about the best ways to share files via file server, email attachment, cloud-based file sharing service, peer-to-peer file sharing, or private cloud.

  • Check your electronics: All sorts of gizmos can connect to the Internet these days, so everything from a nannycam to smart light bulbs should be considered in your online privacy strategy.

  • Think mobile: Ponder topics like SIM card encryption keys, supercookies, location reporting, photo storage, and more as you decide how to handle privacy for a mobile phone or tablet.

  • Help your children: As a parent, you know a lot about your children, and you have access to lots of photos of them. But that doesn’t mean you should share everything without a thought to your children’s privacy needs. Find a few key tips to keep in mind before you tell all.

Joe Kissell

About Joe Kissell

Take Control publisher Joe Kissell has written more than 60 books about technology, including many popular Take Control books. He formerly wrote for publications such as Macworld, Wirecutter, and TidBITS. He lives in Saskatoon with his wife, his two children, and his cat.

What’s New in the Fourth Edition

In the two years since the third edition of this book was released, it seems as though we’ve all been hearing about new privacy-related issues on an almost daily basis. Technology, legislation, and public opinion surrounding digital privacy are all undergoing rapid changes. As a result, this book required extensive modifications to bring it up to date. Among the most significant changes are the following:

  • In the chapter "Learn Who Wants Your Private Data (and Why)," added a new entry: "Foreign Governments"

  • Added a new chapter, "Understand the Evolving Online Privacy Landscape," to provide the current lay of the land and point out areas that deserve more attention than they did previously

  • Prefaced the topic "Create Privacy Rules for Yourself" with a new rule: be suspicious

  • Updated "Purge Your Info from Data Brokers" with better and more current links

  • Mentioned in a few places, including "Use SSL If Possible," that usage of SSL on websites is rapidly on the rise—a very good thing

  • Completely overhauled the topic "Avoid DNS Mischief" to cover the latest options in DNS providers and offer more detail on how to set them up

  • Revised the advice in "Avoid Malware" to reflect what experts are currently suggesting for macOS and Windows users

  • Greatly expanded the "Mind Your Camera and Microphone" discussion to explain why conventional wisdom about those two potential threats is not necessarily accurate

  • Added the topic "Choose a Better Browser" to explore some of the best privacy-focused browser options

  • Included numerous mentions of Apple’s privacy-related changes to Safari in "Browse the Web Privately," especially in the sidebar "Safari’s Evolving Privacy Features"

  • Added Apple Pay and Google Pay to the list of ways to avoid letting credit card details get into the wrong hands in "Shop Online Privately"

  • Updated the Improve Email Privacy chapter in two important ways: a new sidebar called "Gmail Stops Scanning Email" (yay!); a new topic "Mind Your Incoming Email" about spam, tracking beacons, phishing, and other threats; and a new sidebar "Email Links: A Case Study"

  • Revised "Talk and Chat Privately" to remove mentions of defunct products and services, and add new ones

  • In the "Keep Social Media Sort of Private-ish" chapter, added a big topic: "Learn About the Facebook Problem"; also gave additional privacy tips for Facebook

  • Added Firefox Send to the list of options available to "Encrypt Transfers, Files, or Both"

  • Updated the topic "Other Connected Objects" to talk about even more devices within the Internet of Things that could jeopardize your privacy

  • Added numerous notes throughout the book pointing to recent news stories about privacy issues of various sorts

If I don't live in the United States, does this book pertain to me?

Many of the examples in this book are taken from the United States. Although laws and policies vary from country to country, nearly everything in this book is applicable in some fashion to anyone in the world.

I am a journalist and need to protect my sources. Plus, I think a few governments are tracking my movements. Will this book help me to ensure my privacy?

This book could be a good start if you are unfamiliar with these matters, but it does not have the depth of technical detail that you require. The intention of this book is to help ordinary people address ordinary privacy concerns, within the scope of a short book.

Joe and Chuck Joiner Openly Discuss Privacy

Posted by Michael E. Cohen on April 22, 2017

On MacVoices, Joe visits with Chuck Joiner to discuss the current state of online privacy. Drink the Kool-Aid with Joe (literally), as he lets you know what you can (and can’t) do about the proliferating risks that populate today’s privacy landscape. Bears, border agents, and bad actors in the VPN game highlight this important, and sometimes alarming, discussion.

Joe Kissell Tells Chuck Joiner How to Keep It to Himself

Posted by Michael E. Cohen on August 30, 2013

In an interview with Chuck Joiner of MacVoices, Joe Kissell goes over some of the basic dos and don’ts that he offers in his latest book, Take Control of Your Online Privacy. Included are useful tips about email, Google, off-shore providers, Wi-Fi, and social media. Take a look or a listen (we’ll know whether you did or not).

April 30, 2022—A major new edition of this book is planned for the second half of 2022. It will be a free update for anyone who purchases the book between now and then.


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This is a practical, readable, and even humorous guide for all of us. —Miraz Jordan, in her KnowIT review of the ebook

This ebook is written at a level that the average user can understand, and I found it enjoyable, informative, and useful. I think everyone who owns a computer or other device that is connected to the Internet in any way will benefit by reading this book. Especially with all the concerns nowadays about the NSA (Nothing's Secret Anymore). —Richard Rettke

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