From the Actrix Online Informer April 2012


by Rob Zorn

Online privacy is something everyone should be concerned about, but all too often is an issue approached too casually. The idea of giving a complete stranger our date of birth, relationship status and mobile number is a bit disquieting. So too is inviting a passer-by off the street to peruse the photo album from your wedding or view those family movies. Yet lots of this sort of information is already stored online, and yours may be readily accessible with a simple Google search and a few mouse clicks.

In this article we're going to look at some of the lesser-known aspects of the privacy policies of Facebook, Google and YouTube, and give you the information you need to protect your privacy online.


Facebook has come under some serious flack recently for its privacy policy, and here's why…

Facebook tracks you

Facebook's latest updates have included a small but significant feature which allows them to track your internet movements, even when you're logged out of your account. This is done through a technology called cookies, which are small packets of information that a website puts onto your computer when you visit. The cookie acts as an identification card, so that the website recognises you next time you visit that particular site. Well someone discovered that Facebook's cookies have the capacity to include information about other websites you visit. Then when you next log back into Facebook, they have access to all that information.

While Facebook denies using the cookies to glean your private information, this is still a scary prospect. Not only does it mean your private internet sessions have the potential to be plastered all over the internet's most popular website, it also means Facebook can sell your information to advertisers. If Facebook knows what you like to view online, they can sell space to advertisers to post ads that are specifically target to you. And that's too "Big Brother-ish" for most people's liking.

So here's what you can do. Your first option is to never use Facebook. Your second option is to delete all your cookies every time you log out of your Facebook account. Both of these options can be quite a hassle, but option three is a bit easier. A number of developers have created browser extensions to block Facebook services on third-party sites. These extensions are small, easy to install bits of software that attach themselves to your internet browser and prevent information about your browsing being passed on to Facebook. Some of the more popular extensions for Mozilla Firefox include NoScript, Ghostery and Cookie Monster. For Internet Explorer, the most popular extension is the Google Analytics Opt-out Browser Add-on, which we talk about later in this article.

You can read more about browser extensions and how they work here.

Facebook keeps everything forever

A common misconception is that once you delete something from your Facebook profile, it's gone forever. Not true. Facebook keeps a record of everything you upload, every status update you post, and every change to your profile. What's more, in Facebook's fine-print is a small clause which states they own and have the rights to use any photo you upload to your profile, whether you make it public or not. That means they could, if they wanted to, take any picture from your profile and put it on billboards all over the country, and there'd be nothing you could do.

There's really not much you can do about this, except show discretion about which information you choose to share with Facebook. Resist the temptation to put up every photo you have, especially any that have caught you in an embarrassing situation. If in doubt, a good test to see whether you'll later regret letting Facebook get their hands on a particular photo is to imagine how you would feel if your child uploaded a similar photo (this may require imagining you have a child). If that thought horrifies you, don't upload it. Simple!

If you find this disturbing and want to know what they've got on you, there is a way to download whatever information Facebook might have on you (but that doesn't mean it's erased from facebook). This includes every photo you've ever uploaded, every status update you've made, and every chat conversation you've had, so be careful not to let this information fall into the wrong hands after you've downloaded it!

To do this, log into your Facebook page and:

  1. Click the account menu at the top right of any Facebook page,
  2. Choose Account Settings,
  3. Click on "Download a copy" of your Facebook data,
  4. Click the Download button on the following page.

It may take a couple of minutes to download, depending on how much information there is.

These are the main issues that have people worried about Facebook at the moment, but they're not the only ones. You can read more about Facebook privacy issues here (10 Reasons to Quit Facebook).


Google is the internet's most popular online search engine; so popular, in fact, that "google" is now an accepted verb in the English language. Google's success as a search engine has seen it develop into an amalgamation of products and services aimed to make a user's internet experience easier. As well as the search engine, Google has Gmail (its free email service), Google Books (an extensive online database of print and publications), an online translator, blogging and website tools, and social-media network Google+, Google's answer to Facebook. Google also owns YouTube, the most popular video sharing site online.

Just like pretty much every other website or service online, Google collects and stores data from its users. Until recently (1 March 2012), the information Google collected about your search queries, your mail, and your YouTube viewing was kept separate. Now, however, Google has developed a new privacy policy which lets them combine all the information it records form your actions across all its services into one profile. This gives them a much more accurate picture of who you are, what your preferences are, and what you like to do. It also lets them bombard you with targeted advertisements that are tailored to your personal preferences.

A significant brouhaha arose when Google announced these plans to alter its privacy policy. Google was quick to point out that it's not collecting any more information on you than it normally does, it's just storing all that information in the same place. But the thought of having a company know your every move online is scary, and should certainly not be taken lightly. Here's what you can do to protect yourself and limit the information Google can collect.

  1. Don't use Google. There are a number of search engine alternatives, such as Yahoo or Bing, that are arguably just as good. Alternatively, there's Stealth, a search engine that collects absolutely no data about you or your searches.
  2. If you have a Google account, sign out. An account gives you access to more of Google's products and services, but means it can collect more data about you. The best thing to do, once you are finished using a particular service, is sign out. You don't have to be signed in to your Googler account to use the search engine.
  3. There is also a tool you can use called Google Analytics Opt-out Browser Add-on, which is an extension you install onto your web browser that gives you some choice in how Google collects your information.

You can read more about Google's privacy issues here (6 things you need to know about Google's new privacy policy).

It appears inevitable for Facebook and Google to collect information about your internet browsing, but at least you have a wee bit of say as to what and how much. One last trick you can do is clean out your cookies, history, and all other browsing data. A great tool for doing this is Ccleaner, which is free to download and simple to use.

Most browsers will also delete all private data (cookies, history etc) before you shut down. In later version of Internet Explorer you can find this under Tools/Delete browsing history. In Firefox you can find it under Tools/Clear recent history.

And of course it might also pay to have a read of their privacy policies. You never know what you might find.

Read Facebook's privacy policy.

Read Google's privacy policy.







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