Protecting your online privacy

Alice Truong |

Not all online privacy tools are created equal, but good ones do exist to safeguard your identity and personal data. The Little Snitch firewall helps savvy Mac users detect new malware on their machines, while HTTPS Everywhere keeps others from snooping on your data. Wickr is a free iOS app that encrypts your iPhone communication.

As celebrities, IT folks and non-Facebook users can attest, you can never have too much privacy. Here are four tools to safeguard your personal details.

Monitor Incoming and Outgoing Traffic

Not all firewalls were made equal. For the people who want to get to the bottom of incoming and outgoing traffic, there’s Little Snitch.

Built by Objective Development, the latest version, Little Snitch 3, makes the firewall easier to use. It’s proved to be invaluable for security die-hards, helping some savvy Mac users detect new malware on their machines.

Little Snitch sees all, acting as an omniscient intermediary between your Mac and hidden connection attempts.

When an application or Web site attempts to connect to a server, it informs you and lets you set rules to temporarily or permanently accept or reject such connections.

Many people have trouble navigating Little Snitch upon installation. The rules and prompts can be intimidating, but the latest version makes it simpler to understand. Little Snitch 3 costs $34.95 for a single license; upgrade licenses begin at $16.95 (free for those who bought the software after May 1). There’s also a free demo mode that expires after three hours but can be restarted an unlimited number of times.

Browse the Web Securely with HTTPS Everywhere

Another useful tool to keep others from snooping on your private data is HTTPS Everywhere, a Chrome and Firefox extension.

A collaborative effort between the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project, HTTPS Everywhere encrypts your communication on about 3,000 Web sites. The latest update doubled the number of covered sites and is expected to encrypt at least 100 billion page views within the next year. By rewriting requests so sites use the more secure HTTPS instead of HTTP, the extension provides a safer browsing experience.

How Much Are You Worth to Facebook and Google?

If you’re curious how two of the Web’s biggest sites stack up in online privacy, Privacyfix will lay it all out for you.

The Chrome extension scans your Facebook and Google settings, showing you which cookies are tracking you as you browse. After the initial scan, it will tell you which issues should be fixed (e.g., Facebook likes being used for ads), and alert you to privacy breaches and changes to privacy policies on an ongoing basis.

One of its most interesting features is how much money these sites make off ads from your data. Even though Facebook and Google don’t charge you to use their services, it’s not as free as you might think.

And how does Privacyfix handle your information? Under its frequently asked questions, it spells it out in these lay terms: “We do not receive or store any data associated with your use of Privacyfix unless you voluntarily send it to us. Period.”

Secure Communication: This Message Will Self-Destruct

Now that we have your computer covered, let’s turn our attention to Wickr, a free iOS app, that encrypts your iPhone communication, including text, pictures, audio and video messages.

Using the app to securely talk to other app users will make you feel like a spy. By default, all messages expire within six days, though there are options for them to self-destruct sooner than that. These messages cannot be recovered after they’ve been deleted. Furthermore, the app deletes location, device information and timestamps from media files.

Wickr doesn’t store any unencrypted messages on its servers. In fact, it doesn’t even require you to sign up with an e-mail address.