Take Control of Your Online Privacy (book review)

It was somewhere around Page 30 of Joe Kissell’s book Take Control of Your Online Privacy that I ‘came to’ and realised I was reading a very engaging book about an otherwise potentially dry topic. Kissell has a light touch in his writing, with a gentle humour reflected in his very entertaining promo video:

Early on in the book Kissell explains the difference between privacy, security and anonymity with a very clear and amusing example about a bear:

…if you’re in a tent in the woods, you might have privacy (no one can see you) but not security (a bear could still harm you in your tent). Either way, you’re anonymous from the bear’s point of view (he doesn’t know you), but once your remains are identified, we’ll all know who you were.

It’s this kind of writing that makes the book eminently readable.

Who’s watching us?

With recent revelations in the US about government agencies tracking what citizens are doing online, and the recent New Zealand law change that allows a government agency here to monitor our online communications, the topic of privacy is very much on everyone’s minds.

Nothing to hide? Really? You’d be happy to show the world your bank accounts, publish your diary, or tell everyone about that slightly embarrassing problem your doctor fixed up? We all have things we’d prefer to keep private. If you’re going to be online at all then Joe Kissell’s book is the one to read.

Kissell gives solid, practical and sensible advice about online privacy. For example, we may think that if we make a secure connection to a website our privacy is protected. Maybe it is, but if you’re sitting in a coffee shop and the person at the table behind you is watching as you type, then all bets are off.

My copy of the ebook is littered with notes I added to try this and check this. Kissell links us to all kinds of interesting tools and websites that can inform us about aspects of our online privacy, or let us edit certain privacy features. One example is the free Ghostery:

Ghostery™ sees the invisible web - tags, web bugs, pixels and beacons.

Ghostery™ sees the invisible web – tags, web bugs, pixels and beacons.

The book’s free Cheat Sheet and presentation are handy as either reminders for us or as tools to help us share this information with friends and family.

Web, social media, email, files are all things to think about

If you’ve ever tangled with Facebook’s Privacy Settings you’ll know you need to set aside a good chunk of time to set them all up. Kissell gives us a good warning though that privacy settings alone aren’t enough. Did you just share a photo with embedded GPS coordinates and timestamp, for example? Could that alert anyone who sees it that you’re away from home?

And what about those spooky ads that show up on every page you visit. Are they following you? And how do they do it? This book explains.

One of the things I like about this book is that it takes the topic of privacy wider. It doesn’t include a long list of all Facebook’s privacy settings (they’d change tomorrow anyway). Instead it looks at the principles, the wider concerns, the potential problems in how we use Facebook (and other services).

Got kids?

Numerous of my online friends have posted about their children: photos, cute things the kid said, reactions to movies — anything and everything.

But as Kissell points out: anything that goes on to the Internet can and does stay there forever. That cute photo of the child at age 7 may end up with bullying at high school.

Then there’s the whole problem of teaching children about privacy once they start using the Internet themselves. Kissell has some sensible guidance for parents about how to deal with privacy, now and in the future.

Yet another must-read title

The Take Control Books (affiliate link) are my favourites because they are always high-quality, practical and informative, and at a great price. This is yet another title in the series that is a must-read book.

After all, there can be real-world serious consequences to online privacy muck-ups. For example, a tweet about the fabulous concert you’re enjoying in another town could open the way for someone to burgle your house. The friend of a friend of a friend who passes information from your Facebook feed to a vitriolic ex could put you in physical danger.

Kissell alerts us to things we should think about in our online life, and offers practical actions to help keep our privacy safe. It’s an easy and engaging read that leads us through the various issues we need to think about and the steps we should take to protect our privacy.

Book details

Take Control of Your Online Privacy (affiliate link) by Joe Kissell. Version 1.0, Published: Aug 27, 2013, 118 pages. It is available as an ebook for US$10. ISBN: 9781615424252.

Whether or not you feel you have much to hide, your online activities are being tracked and analyzed—and not always to your benefit. Privacy guru Joe Kissell explains who wants your data (and why!) and helps you develop a personalized privacy strategy. You’ll learn how to manage privacy with your Internet connection, browsing the Web, email, chatting, social media, and sharing files.