Find your own private Internet with Freenet

Alex Wawro Associate Editor, PCWorld Follow me on Google+

Alex writes reviews, How-To Guides and features to help you work smarter and game harder.
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Anonymous peer-to-peer communication on the Internet isn’t just a handy tool for privacy enthusiasts; it’s critical for preserving free speech in the digital world. Anonymous file-sharing services like BitTorrent are legion, but their utility is limited—you can share only files—and their reputations are unfairly tarnished by people who use them to share media illegally. If you’re looking for a highly anonymous peer-to-peer network with websites, forums, and more, look no farther than the Free Network, one of the best-kept secrets in anonymous communication.

Here’s how it works: Freenet is an anonymous peer-to-peer data-sharing network similar to BitTorrent, but with one key difference: All uploaded data is assigned a unique key, sliced up into small, encrypted chunks and scattered across different computers on the network. That form of data storage means that—unlike with BitTorrent—you don’t have to keep your Freenet client running to seed files you want to share on the network.

Instead, when someone wants to access a piece of data—a document or photograph, for example—they “fetch” it from the network using the unique key assigned to that piece of data. Freenet routes fetch requests through intermediary computers on the network that don’t store records of the request, ensuring that no single computer on the network knows the contents of any one file.

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Get your privacy ducks in a row with DuckDuckGo

Alex Wawro Associate Editor, PCWorld Follow me on Google+

Alex writes reviews, How-To Guides and features to help you work smarter and game harder.
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Google, Bing, and Yahoo are bitter rivals in their quest for your search engine affection, but they have at least one thing in common: They track your search history and tailor the results of your queries to your interests. Yes, they’re attempting to improve your search experience, but that sort of surveillance is anathema to privacy enthusiasts and anyone who doesn’t want to be stuck in an echo chamber of their own interests. DuckDuckGo is a different kind of search engine, designed to capitalize on the big shots’ poor privacy practices by offering an alternative that’s simple and anonymous.

Private searching made simple

At the DuckDuckGo site, just type your query and click the green magnifying-glass search button. DuckDuckGo employs HTTPS encryption and will not include your search query when it builds links to websites, so the sites you visit won’t know what terms you used to find them. DuckDuckGo also refrains from logging your queries and doesn’t tailor results based on your browsing history, so you’re guaranteed to get unfiltered access to the Web.

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Get ready for Facebook Graph Search

Alex Wawro Associate Editor, PCWorld Follow me on Google+

Alex writes reviews, How-To Guides and features to help you work smarter and game harder.
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Editor's Note: This story was published with a factual error. Other Facebook users cannot view your Facebook Activity Log, which includes a log of your search queries. The story has been corrected.]

Facebook has a new tool that lets you search for people based on their Facebook activity. It’s called Graph Search, and it's gradually becoming available to every Facebook user on the planet. Once you have access—there's a waiting list—you’ll be able to use it to find information such as restaurants your friends have liked, old photos containing specific family members, and alumni from your alma mater who live near your next vacation spot.

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You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Privacy

Have you ever heard of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986? I hadn’t either, not until Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) moved to update it this year with a new amendment that make it more difficult for government agents to access data on remote servers containing information about who you’ve been talking to, where you’ve been and what you’ve seen.

It’s called the ECPA Amendments Act of 2011, and if you’re concerned about keeping your private data secure, it’s legislation worth supporting. “Today, this law [the ECPA] is significantly outdated and out-paced by rapid changes in technology,” said Leahy while proposing to amend the ECPA in May. “Updating this law to reflect the realities of our time is essential to ensuring that our federal privacy laws keep pace with new technologies and the new threats to our security.”

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Diaspora: An Antidote For Your Facebook Privacy Problems

Our social networks say a lot about us. When you register with a Website like Facebook, you voluntarily give up personal information like your name, photo, and phone number in exchange for the privilege of access to a network that makes it easy to keep in touch with friends and family. Facebook then makes money aggregating that information for sale to advertisers looking to target groups of potential customers with specific ages and interests. It’s an information economy, and to be clear, Facebook cleaves to a privacy policy that only permits the sharing of “non-personally identifiable attributes” with advertisers.

The problem is that it’s up to the folks at Facebook to decide what connotes “non-personally identifiable attributes.” We’ve written at length about the problems with Facebook’s protean privacy policies, and the company has done an admirable job of addressing user privacy concerns by offering users the option to disable troublesome features like “Instant Personalization,” which allows third-party websites like Huffington Post and Pandora to access your Facebook data in order to customize their services with ads you might click on.

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Reliable Encryption for the Rest of Us

Privacy Watch
Though encryption is a strong way to safeguard passwords, personal information, and other sensitive data, it can be confusing due to the acronyms and technobabble that surround the topic.

Many encryption utilities--such as the BitLocker feature in Windows 7 Ultimate, or the Rohos Mini Drive utility for protecting info on a thumb drive--are available. But my favorite tool covers all the bases: It's free, it's easy, it's effective, and it works on all major operating systems. TrueCrypt lets you create virtual encrypted drives. Versions are available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux; if you install it on several machines running different OSs, you can open your encrypted files from a network share, thumb drive, or other shared storage device.

The tool has plenty of advanced options, but the simplest approach--and the one I use--is to create an encrypted file protected by a strong password. When you open your TrueCrypt file, it acts as an additional hard drive with its own drive letter. You can interact with that virtual drive the same way that you might with any storage device: You open, save, drag, and drop files to and from the data store. TrueCrypt handles all the encryption and decryption in the background. When you close the encrypted file, the data is protected until you give the password to open it up once more.

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Can You Really Trust Facebook?

Privacy watch
Responding to yet another user uproar, Facebook recently made efforts to simplify its privacy controls and introduce some other welcome changes. They're good steps to take--but considering that Facebook had to be forced to respect users' basic wishes regarding their own information, it suggests a serious disconnect in how the company and its users view privacy.

In January, CEO Mark Zuckerberg had said that his company was updating its systems to "reflect what the current social norms are." So when Facebook announced in April that it would automatically enroll users into new features such as Instant Personalization--which handed users' publicly available Facebook info to selected Websites that users visited--the implication was that users' wishes, not the company's bottom line, prompted the move from a largely private system shared only with approved friends to a largely public system that freely gave data to search engines, marketing companies, and anyone else who wanted it.

Facebook Users Revolt

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