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Top 5 Online Privacy Tools

written by: Brian Nelson•edited by: Christian Cawley•updated: 9/17/2008

Sure, you keep a pretty tight grip on your privacy. You run firewalls, scanners, spyware removers, cookie erasers and more to make sure your PC is free of any privacy give aways. But, what about all those systems out there that you connect to that you have no control over? Websites, friend's, co-workers, your own company? Here are the Top Online Privacy Tools to keep your private data from those other systems in the first place.

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    Tor / Vidalia

    Perhaps the best privacy you can get without shelling out dough, the Tor network works via a vast relay station.  Essentially, when you request data from a site, it is routed to another computer system on the Tor network.  Thus, the request appears to have come from another computer.  That other computer also relays the remote traffic back to your computer which means that the remote system never knows that your system was there.

    Pros:

    • Pretty solid privacy (nothing is perfect)
    • Works with any traffic
    • Free


    Cons:

    • Can be difficult to configure (options like the Torbutton make it easier)
    • Can be slower than direct communications
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    Privnote

    Just because you are careful with your privacy, doesn't mean everyone is.  You can't control what someone does with an email or message after you send it to them.  That is where privnote.com comes in.  Type your message into the privnote website and the message self-destructs after the recipient reads it.  Although there are ways around it, assuming that the person you sent the note to doesn't WANT to compromise your privacy, it is pretty safe (they would have to intentionally try and save a copy).

    Pros:

    • Free
    • Keeps others from compromising your privacy


    Cons:

    • Can be beaten (screen capture)
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    Mintemail

    Far too many websites want your email address.  What if you don't end up using the site?  What if a site you know and trust gets bought out by someone you don't?  What if the security just isn't good and hackers get your email address?  What if they are just spam happy and you hate their constant communication?  This is where mintemail.com is very useful.  Mintemail provides you with a disposable email address you can use for registering for those websites.  You can always go into your profile later if you want them to have the real one.  The best part?  Mintemail automatically "clicks" those links for you to activate your account!

    Pros:

    • Fully disposable email address
    • Can view and check incoming messages for 4 hours
    • Automatically responds to activation links
    • Free!


    Cons:

    • Once the disposable email address is gone, you can't get it back
    • Doesn't always work on all activation links
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    BigString

    Where do some of your least considered, most private, heat of the moment online thoughts come from?  Chances are Instant Messaging and quick emails are the ones you would regret most if they got out.  What to do about it?  BigString, currently in beta, provides an interface to the major IM platforms and makes your chats self-destruct.  It also will allow you to recall or destroy email messages even after they have been sent.  Finally a way to take back that email you typed in an intense moment without careful consideration.

    Pros:

    • Free
    • Self-destructing IM
    • Recallable Emails


    Cons:

    • Not unbeatable (is anything?)
    • Must register for an account with BigString which means that now you have to trust them instead
    • Only works with the Big Four (AIM, Yahoo, MSN, Google Talk) and proprietary BigString chat
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    Customize Google Firefox Plugin

    These days, more and more people are becoming concerned about the amount of data Google collects about you.  Sure, so far it looks like they have done nothing but acceptable things with that data, but times change.  Just because the people in charge today run the company right doesn't mean that later arrivals will.  Plus, there is no guarantee the government won't show up in their data centers.  The Customize Google Plugin gives you some control over what data Google collects without messing up most functionality.  As a bonus, it also allows you to customize certain settings and make those settings sticky without giving away your identity.

    Pros:

    • Free
    • Anonymizes your Google ID
    • Also filters Ads
    • Provides ways to customize your Google experience


    Cons:

    • Causes functionality problems with a minimal number of services (default map location)
    • Only works with Firefox (of course, if you care about privacy, you should be using Firefox)
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    Want More Privacy? Look for these current and upcoming articles:

    • Top 5 Best Privacy File Cleaners
    • Proxy Servers
    • Anonymous Remailers
    • Encryption Software and Services
    • VPN / Tunneling Products and Services
    • Public Wi-Fi Protection Services and Products