Do You Need These Privacy Tools (and do they work)?

Category: Privacy

Did you miss the headline? “Millions Affected by Massive Data Breach” If so, just wait until tomorrow, when another example of how lax corporate America is with your privacy will be announced. Many consumers are seeking additional means to protect their privacy themselves, disregarding pious assurances from companies that obviously don't care or don't know how to protect their customers. Here are some of the most often recommended privacy-protection tools, and some thoughts about how well you can expect them to work...

Yet Another Breach of Your Private Information?

In just one of many recent examples, over 150 million customer accounts were stolen from MyFitnessPal, the app’s parent company UnderArmour, Inc., announced on March 29, 2018. The stolen data includes user names, email addresses and passwords, but not credit card or Social Security numbers, according to the company.

Like I said, that's just one of many. The Identity Theft Resource Center publishes a monthly Breach Report that identified over 60 data breaches in March 2018. The report shows the name of the company where the breach occurred, the types of data compromised, and the number of affected records.

Have I Been Pwned: Enter your email address and this site will tell you if it has been compromised at any time in the past -- except the recent past, when knowing if your email account has been breached might be good to know. Even the site’s “early warning indicator” is more than a year old. It’s like getting a cancer screening test report after your funeral. (The term "pwned" is geekspeak for "owned," or "defeated.")

Protecting your online privacy

BreachAlarm is a similar, but more proactive service that allows you to check anonymously if your email account has been hacked, leaked or compromised. They comb the dark corners of the Internet in search of stolen password lists that have been posted online. You can sign up for email notifications about future password hacks that affect you.

Outline VPN by Alphabet, Inc., parent of Google, is a life-saving boon for journalists and activists in countries with repressive governments. It is somewhat effective for ordinary citizens free-roaming the Internet.

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) provides encrypted connections between two or more computers to keep communications between them private. But all of the computers on a given VPN must have the same VPN client software and permission to be on this private network. You may have VPN client software on your machine, but that “cat” video site where you spend most of your work day does not. The connection from the video site to the VPN server is wide open and can be traced back to you. However, it is neither easy nor quick, and random citizens are not worth that much of a hacker’s time and trouble while so many of them fall for traps easily set.

More Privacy Tools (and one to avoid)

The Facebook Container Add-on For Firefox is nothing more or less than a private/incognito browsing window fitted into a browser tab. When first installed, the add-on deletes all cookies set by Facebook, including cookies set by other sites where you have used your Facebook ID to register, comment, or like. You interact with Facebook only in this special, blue-colored tab. In other tabs, you can interact with other sites and Facebook will not be able to track your Web activities. The downside is that you won’t be able to “sign in with Facebook” on other sites or share their pages to your Facebook page. Oh, and you’ll have to use Firefox, eschewing the many advantages of Chrome.

Password managers are vital tools for privacy, security, and remembering passwords. If you’re not using a password manager, you are probably violating most of the rules for keeping your accounts secure. My article Best Password Managers of 2015 is a few years old, but the links therein to some of the best password manager apps are still good. is a service provider of single-use debit card numbers. You sign up by giving the keys to your checking account - username, password, answers to security questions... wait, what?! No, I did not, and neither should you! That’s not how virtual payment card numbers are supposed to work.

A virtual payment card number is, essentially, a non-physical version of your “chipped” credit or debit card. It’s a random number that fits the required pattern of a valid credit/debit card number, generated at the point of an online sale. It is tied to your real card number for one transaction only, after which it won’t work for any payment. Credible institutions such as American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, and Citibank offer virtual card number services. Never get such things from strangers on the Internet, even if your uncle Joe knows a guy in a nearby city who lives near a police station, and he met a nice lady who recommended them.

What steps do you take to protect your online privacy? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Do You Need These Privacy Tools (and do they work)?"

Posted by:

Lady Fitzgerald
02 Apr 2018

I would not trust Outline VPN. Google is notorious for gleaning personal data and I wouldn't trust anything else Alphabet owns. The same goes for Facebook Container.

Posted by:

bob rice
02 Apr 2018

Bank one time CCN's work very well, I've used the B/A version for years, and wonderful for those annoying sites that automatically enroll you into autopay. The one time CCN does not work to renew so they must contact you for a new CCN. A great method that defeats autorenew.

But they often fail. If I want to pay for something at "" but the account is actually owned by "" The CCN is created to pay the small place and no one else so the charge fails at the parent company.

One time CCN's are great but they don't always work.

Posted by:

John Silberman
02 Apr 2018

If you are really serious about your privacy, I would recommend

Posted by:

02 Apr 2018

I recommend people to work through the Data Detox Kit. Not everything will apply to everybody, but you can just do the bits you like. :)

Experts might quibble about some items, but it is a good start on protecting your data.

Posted by:

02 Apr 2018

Just checked my user name at BreachAlarm. It reported four attempts to use my name in mid 2017. It recommended I change all passwords earlier than that date. That would literally be 100's of passwords. Not very reasonable.

If it knows my user name was used, then why can't it tell me where? I could then just change that one.

Posted by:

02 Apr 2018

Ah, best to use snail mail or land line (if you can find one) for better security than that provided by the internet, and even then your atomic weapons secrets might not be safe. Sorry, folks, but it's a real world out there.

Posted by:

02 Apr 2018

bobrice, for a fee BreachAlarm will tell you more. I think all they are reporting is the number of sites that had data breaches with your email address. I have just asked them to tell me whether my password was really compromised or just my email address. They haven't responded yet. I also have 100s of sites that I use. I have a separate password at EVERY one. So if a site compromised, I will only need to change my password at that site.

Even though I have a method on how I choose my passwords (so I usually can remember them), I use a password manager to keep track just in case I forget or was forced to use something strange to meet site requirements. Also good password managers will fill in your passwords for your so you don't have to type them.

Posted by:

02 Apr 2018

Charley, good points. I use a p/w manager and wonder the same thing. Was my name really compromised? Or was the site? Either way, their software should know this, so why can't they simply tell me the bad site? Or where my name was used?

I think BreachAlarm is a great first step, but I don't see any value knowing my user name "might" have been used a year ago.

Posted by:

James Ford
02 Apr 2018

I checked an email account with both and The info from was up-to-date for the account.

Posted by:

03 Apr 2018

Just downloaded A fantastic tool. Thanks Bob!!

Posted by:

03 Apr 2018

Geez "" M. "" I will say a prayer for advance, lol

Posted by:

03 Apr 2018

@bob rice
"One time CCN's are great but they don't always work."

True, that's why I use a pre loaded Mastercard, and always keep the balance close to zero, until I want to use it. If the balance is less that the purchase amount, the transaction automatically fails, so autopay enrolments are under my control. Also, unauthorised use of the card's details is also eliminated if the card is not in credit. It means that if I want to buy something online, or in a store, I have to load up the card first. It might seem like an inconvenience, but I haven't yet found a better security control for my plastic friend.

Posted by:

04 Apr 2018

Sone credit cards, i.e Citi Bank and Discover have a service where you can request a virtual number and specify the amount and expiration date. That virtual number will only work for the site used, and you can specify the amount and an expiration from 2 months to 1 year.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Do You Need These Privacy Tools (and do they work)? (Posted: 2 Apr 2018)
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