Privacy Check Tool

Here’s a quick check to do before clicking on “I agree”  to those long, dense user agreements. This tool converts the legalize  to understandable English.

PrivacyCheck Offers Free Tool to Analyze Privacy Policies, University of Texas (May 5)

The Center for Identity, a research organization at The University of Texas at Austin, today released PrivacyCheck, a free browser extension that scans privacy policies online and illustrates the risk of sharing personal data with any given company. Currently available for Chrome users, PrivacyCheck gives users a simple, fast way to make informed decisions about privacy.

Private Search

Blur Private Search is a new search service for making your web searches private. It operates as a plug-in to your browser (home page says Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, or Internet Explorer), and can be toggled on and off. Requires registration and login to use. See Blur Private Search: How It Works

ReadWrite described the benefits and operation of  Private Search  in this article How To Blur Your Search Tracks On Google (Apr 17)

Private Search provides a new made-up identity for each individual search. It then funnels the request through an SSL tunnel, so that the search is encrypted—even Abine can’t see what you’re searching for. And every phrase or topic you search appears as if it is unconnected to previous searches, since each query is sent through Abine’s server with an entirely different IP address (which is yet another avenue by which websites can track people).

Getting past barriers

Hola – a great Chrome or Firefox browser extension for accessing  web sites that would otherwise be blocked based on your IP number. A WebSearchGuide reader sent me this tip. Hola makes it possible to access Google.com from outside the United States and view anonymously (ie privately) the search results complete with in-depth articles – a feature still not rolled out to the rest of the world. Canadians will also appreciate that it  makes it possible to receive music played from US-based services.

From the FAQ:

Hola’s goal is to make the Internet faster and fully accessible to everyone. Install Hola on your PC, phone or tablet to make your Internet faster, more open and more anonymous. Hola lets you have unlimited access to information that is otherwise not available in your geography while protecting your online privacy. It also lets you stream videos faster than ever before. Hola is a collaborative Internet — it works by sharing the idle resources of its users for the benefit of all.

Worth taking some time to try out.

How private are health queries?

Very alarming report on how much data is “vacuumed” up about us from our searches. This article summarizes research by Tim Libert, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, on what happens with health queries.

Looking up Symptoms Online? These Companies are Tracking You, by Brian Merchant, Motherboard (Feb 23)

Here’s what’s happening in a bit greater detail: Let’s say you make a search for “herpes.” Plugging that query into a search engine will return a list of results. Chances are, whatever site you choose to click on next will send information not just to the server of the intended site—say, the Centers for Disease Control, which maintains the top search result from Google—but to companies that own the elements installed on the page

Enough to get us to change to a privacy-minded search engine such as DuckDuckGo.

Getting away from ads

Google tools are easy to use and very effective, but collect a lot of information about us. How much should we reveal about ourselves? This article has alternatives: DuckDuckGo for search, Firefox rather than Chrome for browsing, Zoho docs instead of Google docs, and Fastmail instead of Gmail – if you have to use a webmail service.

How to ditch Google for more privacy and fewer ads, Derek Walter, PCWorld (Sept 9)

If you’ve decided that keeping all your eggs in one online basket is unwise, there are viable alternatives. Some are arguably not as full-featured as what Google has. But using your email without ads or knowing that performing a web search won’t result in a ton of related advertisements may be enough to encourage you to go on a Google-free diet.

Google starts to remove results

The European Union court decision to require Google to remove results about people requesting “to be forgotten” has resulted in a near deluge of requests – 50,000 of them. Google has begun reviewing them and removing those that are “objectionable” according to the ruling.

Google’s ‘right to be forgotten’ takedowns a ‘challenge to press freedom’
, Juergen Baetz, AP via Globe and Mail (Jul 3)

At least three British media, including the Guardian newspaper and public broadcaster BBC, said they have been notified by Google that links to some of their articles were removed from search results in Europe.

Facebook Users Outraged

Facebook has been manipulating news in feeds to selected users in the interest of research, the essence of which was to study whether people are emotionally affected by what they read. The study was done by a Facebook employee and two researchers at Cornell University. People are outraged but they will forget the privacy infringement, as they always do, and there will be another round in a few months.

Even the Editor of Facebook’s Mood Study Thought It Was Creepy, Adrienne Lafrance, Atlantic (Jun 28)

“The study found that by manipulating the News Feeds displayed to 689,003 Facebook users users, it could affect the content which those users posted to Facebook. More negative News Feeds led to more negative status messages, as more positive News Feeds led to positive statuses.”

Not really a stunning finding, and surely not worth the trouble.

Information privacy commissioners in Canada and the United Kingdom will examine whether the study violated  privacy laws.

Canada’s privacy watchdog to press Facebook on ’emotional’ study, David Bradshaw, Globe and Mail (Jul 2)

What Google Knows

Find out with a few clicks from this article what Google “knows” about you. Some of the things will be wrong, some you told Google in your profile, and some bits you’d prefer to be unknown.

How Much Does Google Really Know About You?, by Matt Smith, Make Use Of (Jun 17)

There is your Google web history, the Dashboard – showing everything you use, Google Ad Settings – where there are sure to be some errors. Add to this what Google knows about you though Google+, Gmail, and Google Drive.

Taken as a whole, the information Google collects about users is shockingly complete. The company can mine your emails and Drive documents, track your browsing history, track the videos you watch on YouTube, obtain your WiFi passwords and much more.

Right to be forgotten

Last May, the European Union Court of Justice ruled that a person could require that Google remove information about that person from search results –  they have the “right to be forgotten”.

Google will indicate in search results that “right to be forgotten” has been applied. More information about this and related stories in Yes, Google Will Disclose “Right To Be Forgotten” Removals by Barry Schwartz (June 9)

This applies only in the Google search engines for Europe – not to Google.com and the United States. Right To Be Forgotten Won’t Happen On Google.com (June 10)

Access Your Info

OpenMedia.ca works for an Internet in Canada where online privacy will be protected. They educate and advocate. On June 17 it announced a method for finding out what your Internet and Telecome Provider knows about you. Open Media helps you in submitting to your company a request that can’t be refused. See Access MyInfo

Full story at New Access My Info tool empowers Canadians to learn what information their telecom collects about them, and shares with third parties, including government entities