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Take Control of Your Online Privacy
May 13, 2015
The Author

Joe Kissell has written more than 60 books about technology, including many popular Take Control ebooks. He runs Joe On Tech and is also a contributing editor of TidBITS and a senior contributor to Macworld.

Take Control of Your Online Privacy, Second Edition

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

Do you have anything to hide? Whether or not you think you do, your online activities are certainly tracked — and not just by well-meaning sites who want to keep you logged in or by marketing firms who want to show you targeted ads for products that you likely want to buy. Don’t believe us? Watch Joe Kissell’s “None of Your Business” sketch below for proof (and some funny bits!).

In the ebook, Joe helps you understand what to expect about online privacy and develop a sensible online privacy strategy, customized for your needs. He then explains 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. To bring home the most important privacy no-nos, Joe also encourages you to take The Pledge (it’s tongue-in-cheek, though it would have saved numerous politicians from ridicule). Plus, parents will find important reminders about protecting a child’s privacy.

Teach This Book! Once you’re satisfied with your own online privacy strategy, you may want to help friends or colleagues improve theirs. To that end, Take Control of Your Online Privacy includes links to a free one-page PDF cheat sheet and to a PDF-based slide deck that you can show on any computer or mobile device screen.

More Info

Whether you have a Mac or PC, iOS or Android device, set-top box, cell phone, or some other network-enabled gadget, you’ll find the advice that ordinary people need to handle common privacy needs (secret agents should look elsewhere). You’ll receive savvy advice about:

Why worry? Learn about 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 are important 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, and take key precautions to keep your data from leaking out.

Browse and search the Web: Learn what is revealed about you when you use the Web. Avoid bogus Web sites, connect securely where possible, control your cookies and history, block ads, browse and search anonymously, and find out who is tracking you. Also, learn how 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 doctor or 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: Social media is by definition social, so there’s a limit to how private it can be. Understand the risks and benefits of sharing personal information online, 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 or personal 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 your nanny cam to gameplayer to light bulbs may now play a part in your online privacy strategy.

Think mobile: Consider topics including 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, , since data never disappears from the Internet. Find a few key tips to keep in mind before you tell all.

What's New

Version 2.0 of this book brings it up to date with the latest developments in online privacy and adds information on some particularly hot topics. The most significant changes are as follows:

  • Added Data Brokers and Doxxers to the list of people who might want your private data

  • Explained how to Purge Your Info from Data Brokers

  • Included a sidebar, What about Adware?, that discusses this special flavor of malware designed to display intrusive advertising

  • Added the topic Mind Your Camera and Microphone as another step to Keep Your Internet Connection Private

  • Updated Web Privacy Software with more information on Adblock Plus and AdBlock; and provided additional recommendations in Search Privately, including a sidebar about Browsers with Enhanced Privacy

  • Expanded the discussion of how to Encrypt Your Email with information on proprietary encrypted email services

  • Added a new chapter, Manage Your Mobile Privacy, about additional privacy considerations when using a smartphone or tablet with a cellular Internet connection

  • Added a new chapter, Keep the Internet of Things Private, on privacy for objects not normally considered computing devices


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 ebook 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 ebook is to help ordinary people address ordinary privacy concerns, within the scope of a short book.

Reader Comments

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

Update Plans

May 20, 2015 – At the moment, we don’t have a particular plan to update this title. In late 2015, we’ll probably make a plan for updates in 2016 and if we feel that this book is in need of an update — and sufficiently popular — we’ll make a plan for a 2016 update.

Posted by Tonya Engst

  1. Heartbleed, Heartburn, and You

    The startling and disheartening news about the recently discovered Heartbleed Internet security vulnerability no doubt has you wondering, “What should I do? What can I do to protect myself and my data?” The answer is, “Change your passwords for the affected sites. But not necessarily immediately, and not all at once.” Why not immediately? Because the vulnerability affects a wide range of servers across the entire Internet, and not all of those affected servers have been patched—changing your password on an unpatched server simply means that your new password may be purloined just as easily as your old one. Instead, you should avoid logging in to unpatched sites and servers until they are patched, and change your password at that point. The TidBITS article The Normal Person’s Guide to the Heartbleed Vulnerability provides several links to help you figure out which servers are vulnerable and which have been patched, and provides guidance about what you should do to protect yourself and when you should do it.

    Eventually, of course, you will have a bunch of passwords to change.

    If you use password-management software, such as LastPass or 1Password, that software can help you with that unwelcome but essential task. (AgileBits, the developer of 1Password, has posted an Updating Your Site’s Password guide to help you with your labors.) Browse safely, my friends.

    Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

  2. Joe Kissell Tells Chuck Joiner How to Keep It to Himself

    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).

    Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)