Book Review - Take Control of your Online Privacy, by Joe Kissell
Here at Digital Citizen we take online privacy & security very seriously. Nowadays, it's a fact of life that one just can't be too careful, and the more information we have, the better. In this case, knowledge really is power. Thus, I was very interested by the title Take Control of your Online Privacy. Could this book tell me more than what I already had learned about online security and privacy? It's a fairly short e-book (118 pages) so would it pack in enough information to make it worth buying? Let me tell you what I've found out.
Getting off to a good start
The author, Joe Kissell, draws the reader in right from the get-go with a straightforward introduction to the book's purpose, followed by an equally straightforward challenge: Learn what you have to hide. As he points out, many of us may assume we have nothing to hide, but that just simply isn't so. Even the most innocent person has plenty to hide, and there are plenty of ways to keep snoopers out.
The book gets right down to business by explaining exactly what most people want to keep private (location, medical information, employment information and so forth) and from whom. Some of the data snoops are about what people expect (advertisers, in particular) and have relatively benign intentions (targeted ads). And, of course, the various search engines suck up data from us whether we realize it or not.
But there are others out there whose intentions are far from benign (hackers, malware creators, people from our own lives who may simply be far too nosy or actually wish us harm, etc.) and of course various government agencies world wide whose intentions we just don't know.
So, with all those people and agencies lusting after all the information they can get from us, is it possible to stay really private and really secure? The author is honest about it: No. But he then starts out to provide easy to understand ways in which most people can have as much privacy as is possible. I appreciated the honesty and the straightforward approach to stating the problem and giving the reader a path to a solution.
The plan and the strategy
The book goes on to explain in detail exactly what you need to do to take charge, starting with things that are easy to fix and moving on through more complex problems. Most of us use email and web browsers casually every day without much thought about how what we type and what we send might be seen and used by someone else, and the book explains how we can protect ourselves while engaged in these everyday activities. A lot of it is simple common sense, but common sense is a lot easier if you've got the right information on hand. How many everyday users know anything about DNS, for example? And yet making sure those settings are done right (or even using a DNS provider other than your own ISP) is one simple step towards privacy from your home network.
I suspect a lot of people don't know about VPNs (virtual private networks), and how easily they can be set up so that browsing from public places like coffee shops can be much more secure. The book also explains this in simple terms.
I especially liked the step-by-step approach to creating one's own personal privacy strategy. I'm sure I'm one of many people who never even considered doing something this basic and essential before. I'm doing it now!
And there is even a Pledge to take. It's written in a lighthearted manner, but the purpose is serious: Don't be ignorant, when getting educated is so easy in the information age, and don't be stupid, because it WILL come back to bite you.
Taking the right steps
The book is filled with opportunities to get an education. Most of us, and I'm including myself, don't think about these things from day to day. What device do you use for web access, social media and email? What would happen if it got stolen? A lot of us worry about documents and data, but do we stop to think that anyone who steals a laptop or smartphone then has access to our entire browsing history as well? They'll know what sites were visited and can see cached versions of the pages themselves. If you use your browser to store your passwords, think of the mischief that might be done.
The same could be said of your email accounts. Whether you use an email client (as I do) or just log into your web email directly, anyone who gets their hands on your computer or phone then has access to all your emails as well. Even if you've just been chit-chatting back and forth with friends, you don't really want some lowlife getting their hands on all your friends' email addresses, do you?
And then there are sites like Facebook, on which some people seem to be willing to vomit up every last detail of every last moment of their lives. If anyone thinks that stuff is in any way private, especially since Facebook seems to change everything on a whim every few weeks, they've just done the lowlifes' job for them. (See our series of articles on Facebook privacy apps for more ways to protect yourself: Test Comparison - The Best Security Application for Facebook)
There are also special issues involving children. Not only do young children need to be protected while using the internet, but information adults post about those children, no matter how innocently, needs to be fiercely protected as well.
Having brought up these issues, the author then walks the reader through solutions that range from the simple to the advanced, with clear explanations of what needs to be done, and why. I think most readers will find, as I did, that this is an eye-opener in itself. It's author has also created a great video that serves as an excellent introduction to the book. You can view it below:
Where To Buy
This book is small but it's powerful. There is useful information on every page, written by someone who clearly knows what he's talking about. The book is well put together, with hyperlinks to other sections and links to outside sources as well. I can say without hesitation that it was a major eye-opener for me and I'm ready to start putting the advice into practice.
The book Take Control of your Online Privacy provides an essential education in online privacy and security practices, with plenty of useful information so the reader can take practical action. And the $10-12 price of the book is a bargain. Why would anyone want to miss out on an educational experience like this?