Top Story

Privacy smackdown: Facebook versus Google+

With Google+ rocketing to millions of users in record time, many people wonder whether the claims are true: is Google+ really that much better at defending your privacy than Facebook?

Facebook’s rocky history with fluctuating privacy settings and a memorable, scummy, mud-slinging attempt to smear Google make it easy to jump to conclusions, warranted or not. Here’s what you need to know.

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The advanced system-recover toolkit

You probably know and use various real-time antivirus tools, but there are also advanced security tools that work under the operating system.

Many of these are based on Linux and help scan, fix, or even reset Windows passwords.

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How to download and save streaming videos

How many times have you wanted to download and store an online streaming video so you could play it back at a different time or on a different machine?

While the basics of downloading YouTube and other videos have been around for a long time, there are tricks to getting the video you want into a format you can use.

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Win7’s no-reformat, nondestructive reinstall

Microsoft won’t tell you this, but you can do a fast, nondestructive, in-place, total reinstall of Windows 7 without damaging your user accounts, data, installed programs, or system drivers.

That means you may never have to do a full, from-scratch reinstall again, even when your system is misbehaving so badly that a full reformat-and-reinstall seems the only answer!

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Don’t pay for software you don’t need — Part 3

In the first two installments of this series, I stepped you through a boatload of software that you don’t need if you have Windows 7.

Many of you wrote to me in disbelief — some of you disagreed in very strong terms. But from what I’ve seen, most of the add-on software that people buy for Windows is just a waste of money.

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It’s time to move up to Internet Explorer 9

With the exception of Internet Explorer, updating to your browser’s latest version is usually a given.

For Vista and Win7 users, upgrading to IE 9 requires a bit more consideration and planning than updating Firefox or Chrome — but the time has come.

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RPV: Win7’s least-known data-protection system

You deleted a file yesterday; now you really need it back. Your Windows recycle bin is empty — what now?

Your next-best option is the Restore Previous Versions tool — a truly great, automatic data-protection feature buried in Win7.

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What you need to know now about Windows 8

Few Microsoft publicity efforts have ever drawn as much attention as last week’s 20-minute Windows 8 sneak preview.

If you’ve heard that Windows 8 is for the dogs or that it will look like a phone, you haven’t heard the whole story.

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Re-examining Dropbox and its alternatives

Recent revelations about privacy concerns with Dropbox have led many people — including me — to think about changing my practices regarding online file-storage and -synchronization providers.

If you use Dropbox or some other cloud storage and sync program, let me explain what you do — and don’t — need to be concerned about. And what you can do to sleep better at night.

Michael Lasky wrote about Dropbox in his October 28, 2010, Top Story, Dropbox: File synching and sharing made easy. Dropbox lets you drag and drop files into a special folder on your Windows desktop. The dropped files then magically appear on all other PCs, laptops, phones, and iPads that use the Dropbox service and are set up to share the folder you have. It has good password-based security and fine file-sharing options.

We here at Windows Secrets use Dropbox all the time, both as individuals and as a group. As Michael said, “Every once in a while some product — or service in this case — comes along that we soon find we can’t live without. Dropbox, an online file-backup, -sharing, and -synchronization service, fits that category.”

I personally like Dropbox so much I recommended it in my January 27 Top Story, Seven simple steps for setting up Windows 7.

That’s why I was very concerned when reports started surfacing a few weeks ago about possible privacy problems with Dropbox.

Setting up Dropbox from a privacy point of view

To understand the problems that have caused all the concern, you need to understand how Dropbox works.

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Mobile privacy: lots of Big Brothers, little clarity

What do you call software that collects and sends information about you to its developers, advertisers, and others? On a desktop, we’re likely to name it spyware.

But on a cell phone, tablet, or other mobile device we call it an app — never realizing that it might be operating much like spyware.

As difficult as the issues surrounding privacy on a desktop computer can be, they’re virtually child’s play compared to the issues that arise with mobile devices — which, at the very least, must identify themselves to gain access to public Wi-Fi or cellular networks. Cellular devices do this through a unique identification number attached to every voice call or data request — an ID that networks store as long as your device is turned on, whether it’s in use or not.

The closest equivalents in the desktop space are tracking cookies, which we have the freedom to delete. “With mobile device identifiers, there’s no ability to delete or opt out,” says Ashkan Soltani, an online privacy consultant who recently testified (PDF file) about mobile privacy issues before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.

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