Supercookies and Evercookies and No Cookies at All: Resistance Is Futile

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I just read an article talking about so-called “supercookies” and “evercookies” — cookies which are supposedly impossible to delete, and left without the computer user’s permission or even knowledge. What are “supercookies”? What are “evercookies”? And how can I protect my computer from them?

I’ll start out by saying that options to protect yourself from supercookies and evercookies are relatively limited, if effective at all.

Supercookies and evercookies are the result of a website owner’s desire (or more often, the desire of the advertising networks used by websites) to accumulate data about computer users and the sites they visit — even those users who disable or clear cookies in their browser regularly.

Bottom line: clearing cookies isn’t enough — not nearly enough.

And there may be nothing that is.

Read moreSupercookies and Evercookies and No Cookies at All: Resistance Is Futile

Facebook Privacy

As I’ve said before, one way privacy issues happen is through people’s own actions. Over-sharing on social media is the most common example.

Nowhere is that more common than on Facebook, where privacy settings are so complex, it’s often difficult to know exactly who can see what, when, and where.

Let’s review Facebook’s privacy settings, and perhaps most importantly, what they might imply.

Read moreFacebook Privacy

Adjusting Windows 10 Privacy Settings

In an earlier article, I covered adjusting the default Windows 10 privacy settings at the time you install or upgrade to it.

The key, as is true for many software installations, is to avoid the default “Express settings” option. Instead, always use custom settings, so as to expose the choices the setup program might be making on your behalf.

But what if it’s too late? What if you’ve already installed Windows 10, and want to adjust the settings after the fact?

I’ll explore where those settings are kept and what you can change in your installed and running copy of Windows 10. Regardless of the decisions made at set-up time, you can always change your mind.

Read moreAdjusting Windows 10 Privacy Settings

Setting up Windows 10 for privacy

Since its introduction, Windows 10 has come under a fair amount of heat for various privacy issues.

Depending on what you read, and what’s been uncovered, it does appear that not all the privacy-related issues are necessarily in your control.

However, much of it is, and much of it begins when you install or update Windows 10.

As with many other setups and installs, the “secret” is to never accept default or express settings, and always choose to customize.

Read moreSetting up Windows 10 for privacy

Are my Skype calls recorded?

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Is Skype really not recording my private video calls on their servers anywhere on the internet or on a hard copy?

I think it’s extremely unlikely that your Skype calls are recorded … at least by Skype. I’ll dive into a number of reasons I believe that to be the case.

However, there’s another, potentially more dangerous, scenario that a lot of people overlook. Unfortunately, many are paying a very steep price for that.

Read moreAre my Skype calls recorded?

Why is Chrome automatically filling in forms?

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Is there any way we can stop Google doing this (anti-privacy) stuff?

I have a PC which I normally use with Firefox, but sometimes Chrome (usually when page translation is needed). My son occasionally uses the PC but always with Chrome.

Today I went to fill out a form for entry to a competition: as soon as I entered the first ‘S’ of the name, Google filled out the WHOLE of the rest of the form with HIS mobile number, HIS email, in fact all his personal details. He assures me he has not activated any autofill or checked any ‘remember me’ boxes and (since he’s well over 30yo and totally honest) I believe him. The entry form came from a local newspaper and is nothing directly to do with Google or their services.
SO the question is – how to prevent this happening by default – after all, this means that ANYONE who uses this PC has access to all my son’s personal info.
Surely Google can’t be allowed to get away with this, and anyway, either way, the rest of your readers need to know of this gaping hole in security created by Google?

*Note to self – uninstall Google Chrome.*

Comments please Leo?

Sure. I think you’re blaming the wrong entity.

There’s a lot of confusion when a browser (yes, any browser) automatically fills in something on web page when we start typing.

There’s nothing deep, dark or nefarious going on here. No one’s trying to violate your privacy. It’s simply your browser doing its best to be helpful.

Read moreWhy is Chrome automatically filling in forms?

About that Facebook test…

This week, tech news and social media were all up in arms about a test that Facebook had performed a few years back.

The test was very simple: for a small subset of users, Facebook tweaked the algorithm that decides what posts to show you. Group A got slightly more negative posts displayed in their feed, and group B got slightly more positive posts. The net effect is that people in group A went on to share slightly more negative posts themselves, whereas the folks in group B posted slightly more positive things.

Now, I’m not going get into the ethics of the test, or the tap dancing around Facebook’s terms of service that apparently occurred. This isn’t even about whether Facebook’s actions were good or evil, right or wrong or something else (though I will touch on one of the outcomes of the test and how it has direct relevance to something I’m doing.)

Nope. This is about a greater reality that I think you need to be aware of.

You’re being experimented on all the time.

Read moreAbout that Facebook test…

“Right to be Forgotten”: Misguided and Misleading

The European Union’s highest court recently ruled that search engines, namely Google and maybe Bing, need to honor requests from individuals to be removed from their search indexes in support of a concept known as “the right to be forgotten”.

There are many ethical, political and moral discussions that are happening around the topic right now. While I certainly have opinions in those realms, I want to take a look at it from a purely practical point of view.

That view?

It just can’t work.

Read more“Right to be Forgotten”: Misguided and Misleading

Giving Away Our Privacy

I had to remind folks out on my Facebook Fan Page again the other day not to post personal information. (I delete posts that contain that kind of stuff, as I do in comments on Ask Leo! articles.) It got me to thinking a little.

On one hand we rail against the supposed loss of privacy posed by the various services we use and companies behind them, not to mention concerns that various governments might be doing some kind of snooping.

And yet, we give away our private information – posting it publicly even – without hesitation.

Read moreGiving Away Our Privacy

Why Do I Always Have to Sign Out Other Sessions in Gmail?

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Leo, I’ve got one computer and I’m the only one who uses it. I don’t have any kind of mobile device that I use with Gmail. I never accessed any of my accounts from any other computer or location. Before I shut my computer down, I always go to Internet Options and clear my cache and cookies. I check every box except the top and bottom ones and then I go to disk cleanup where I always check all the boxes and clean up everything. I change my passwords at least once a month on the websites. I use it every day and yet, at least once a week I have to close other sessions in Gmail when I click on the Details. I have a free account so of course it’s next to impossible to get an explanation from Google themselves. Should I be concerned or is this some kind of a glitch in email? This isn’t new; it’s been happening for some time.

It’s actually a pretty nifty feature in Gmail. Basically, it’s telling you where Gmail has seen your account being accessed from. Naturally, it’s a little scary to see things like 1, 2 or 3 other places, when you believe that you’ve logged in from exactly and only one. I’ll throw out a few ideas as to why that might be and what, if anything, you need to do.

Read moreWhy Do I Always Have to Sign Out Other Sessions in Gmail?

Does deleting things really delete things?

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When I use the Chrome “tools and settings” for deletion of my browsing history and emptying of the cache, does that permanently delete those items, or can they be retrieved later if desired? With all the notoriety regarding legal discovery and request for production of emails and texts is there a way to permanently delete emails and texts from a PC so that they cannot be recovered or reconstructed by a PC expert?

It’s a well-known fact that deleting things on your computer usually doesn’t really completely destroy them. So there is definitely some risk in the scenarios that you describe.

Let’s look at each of them.

Read moreDoes deleting things really delete things?

Does visiting a search-engine cached page prevent the original site from noting my visit?

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There are times when one might choose to search a company’s web page as cached by Google or Bing in the hope of not broadcasting one’s IP address to the company by searching its active web page. Does visiting the cached version of a page provide anonymity at least from the company being searched? If not, is there a way to modify the search to achieve this anonymity short of using a proxy address?

The answer depends a lot on the specific sites that you’re actually looking at. In many cases, yes: the original site will never know that you were looking at its content that was cached somewhere else. However, in many other cases, – perhaps even most – the answer might be very different.

Read moreDoes visiting a search-engine cached page prevent the original site from noting my visit?

How Do I Remove Only My Personal Information from a Computer?

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I want to give a computer to a friend’s son, so I want to wipe all of my personal information from it. But everything I’ve read also wipes out useful programs that I keep for him to use. Do any of your articles show the best way to get rid of personal information without getting rid of everything?

The short answer here is no. The problem is that there is really no distinction between what is and is not personal information.

Read moreHow Do I Remove Only My Personal Information from a Computer?

Can the Owner of an Open WiFi Hotspot See what Files I’m Downloading?

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Just wondering if others can see what I’m downloading, say in a coffee shop or some other public place, like the administrator there? Or can they just tell that something is being downloaded. It’s a local place so I assume they have some local provider like Comcast. I imagine it just takes up their bandwidth and they don’t like that because it makes the connection slow for others in the establishment. Please let me know.

In this excerpt from Answercast #83, I look at safety in an internet cafe and how the owner, or even the guy right next to you, might be snooping.

Read moreCan the Owner of an Open WiFi Hotspot See what Files I’m Downloading?

How should I erase my hard drive before I give it away?

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I would like to clear off/erase all of the programs on my hard drive and clean it up before I donate my computer to a worthy cause. What’s the best/simplest way to do this?

To begin with, good on you not only for your donation, but for thinking to do this. All too frequently we hear of computers being donated by banks, hospitals, or other institutions and then turning up with all sorts of private information that should have been erased first. The best way? Well … how paranoid are you?

Read moreHow should I erase my hard drive before I give it away?

Can my boss see my mail and instant messages?

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I sent a co-worker an instant message through MSN messenger regarding our boss. (We were both in the same office at the time). My boss was seen at my desk looking through my computer. He has spyware installed on the system. Can he retrieve my old MSN instant message that I sent to my co-worker?

Oh my, could he ever. I hope what you said wasn’t too awful.

Even if he wasn’t standing at your desk, there are several ways that he could be keeping track of what’s going on with your computer.

Read moreCan my boss see my mail and instant messages?