Some Privacy Tools You Should Try (and one to avoid)

Category: Privacy

Did you miss that screaming headline? “Millions Affected by Massive Data Breach” If so, just wait until next month, or next week, when another example of how many companies are careless with your personal data 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?

Just one year ago, over two BILLION customer accounts were stolen from, an email marketing firm. Forbes reported that the stolen data includes emails, phone numbers, addresses, dates of birth, social media account details, credit scores and mortgage data.

And reports like these have been rolling in with alarming regularity. The Identity Theft Resource Center publishes a monthly Breach Report that identified over 90 data breaches in February 2020. The report shows the name of the company where the breach occurred, the types of data compromised, and the number of affected records. This handy chart summarizes the data breaches from 2005 to 2018. Business, healthcare, and banking were the most common targets in the 9,700+ breaches from that time period.

Were you affected by any of those breaches? With a total of over 2.5 billion consumer records affected in the past two years, and over a billion Yahoo accounts compromised in 2016, I'd say you would be lucky to escape with your privacy unscathed. Valuable data such as account passwords, social security numbers, financial data, and credit card information is sold by the pound on the Dark Web. Check out the privacy tools below, for some tips on identifying if, when or how you may have been affected. I've also got some tips on how to protect what's left of your digital privacy.

Protecting your online privacy

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. (The term "pwned" is geekspeak for "owned," or "defeated.") HIBP is the creation of a well-respected security expert, Troy Hunt, and is safe to use. You can read the privacy policy to see how the site handles your email address.

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.

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 Can This Robot Manage Your Passwords? has links to Roboform and some other recommended password manager apps.

The Google Password Checkup tool will alert you on the spot if the username and password you are about to enter on a website have been compromised. Password Checkup is a Chrome browser extension that checks your input against a database of four billion login credentials that Google knows have been compromised. is a service provider of single-use debit card numbers. You sign up by giving the keys to your checking account - username, password, and answers to security questions. I just did it myself. 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 "Some Privacy Tools You Should Try (and one to avoid)"

Posted by:

14 Apr 2020

Discover use to have this service and it worked great till it was discontinued. It proved itself once when someone created a virtual card and used it once and the 2nd time is was stopped and several companies I used the virtual card for monthly charges changed their processor and it was declined due to the processor change. Loved the service and felt a lot safer

Posted by:

S. Krsh
14 Apr 2020

Bank of America stopped their virtual card service a few months ago. Don't know why - it was very useful.

Posted by:

Thomas Cuchine
14 Apr 2020

Capital One has a service called Eno, which provides endless numbers of virtual credit card numbers. You can set up different virtual accounts for merchants you use frequently, recurring charges, etc. It's easy to use with Chrome as a browser extension.

Posted by:

14 Apr 2020

Hi Bob. You could usefully point your readers to where they'll find a wealth of advice on privacy options.

b.t.w. Their top browser for privacy? Firefox ('modified' by switching some of the privacy options in ways they guide you through).

Their take on Google Chrome? "Unfortunately, it’s a data collection tool" ... "and not a good choice for anyone looking for privacy."

Posted by:

Bernie Amler
14 Apr 2020

Bank of America no longer has the option of using a virtual credit card online. This is from their website:

Adding your eligible credit and debit cards to a digital wallet on your mobile device converts them for use as virtual cards. This will assign them a unique card number only associated with that particular device and the wallet you're using, so you can make purchases on-the-go. Footnote 1 Please review our FAQs for details on eligible cards.

So now one needs a phone that has NFC and then many merchants still don't have NFC available,

Posted by:

Bob K
14 Apr 2020

With some of the virtual cards you could set the expiration date, max dollar value and so on. The Capital One UNO is easy to use -- only online -- but doesn't offer these features.

I don't want my cellphone to be a big credit card where anyone that finds it also has my credit card in their hand.

Posted by:

14 Apr 2020

"You sign up by giving [google].com the keys to your checking account - username, password, and answers to security questions [shoesize, blood type, etc.]. I just did it myself. Wait, what?! NO, I did not, and neither should you!"

Posted by:

14 Apr 2020

IMHO >> ..."over two BILLION customer accounts were stolen" That is chump-change and totally legal "theft" by google.

Posted by:

Bill C.
14 Apr 2020

Google Chrome? Really? Did you notice the word "Google" in there? Biggest collectors of data for sale that exists.

I'll take Firefox, thank you.

Posted by:

14 Apr 2020

Bill C. - Amen!

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
14 Apr 2020

I'm surprised you didn't mention Brave browser which is built for privacy and speed:
I find that it is almost identical in operation to Google Chrome so that there is little to no learning curve to switch.

Posted by:

15 Apr 2020

@Bob K. Hopefully, you’re not carrying physical credit cards in your wallet. If that gets lost or stolen, your credit cards have no security to stop someone from using them before you cancel them. My smartphone requires authentication to unlock the phone plus more authentication to use the wallet app. I’ll likely have the phone remotely wiped and the cards canceled before someone gets past those.

Posted by:

Sarah L
15 Apr 2020

Thanks for you explanation of that Firefox feature. I had hesitated to use it, but now I set it up on two computers. I do not like Face book knowing what I do on other websites. I never use face book to access other sites, so nothing is lost and privacy is gained.

Posted by:

Morgan Kizer
15 Apr 2020

When is PC matic going to add a VPN to their offerings?

Posted by:

Mark S
28 Apr 2020

Citibank stopped issuing Virtual Cards about a year ago. I don't know why because it was a great safeguard when dealing with online vendors who don't have secure systems. It proved itself to me when we made a purchase from a small outfit in CA and then one of their employees tried to use the card number to purchase expensive shoes, but was of course thwarted.

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