Most connected people use services from at least one, if not most of the major tech companies. And while they generally make it easy for you to figure out what data you’re sharing with them and other third-party services, sometimes you need a big, red warning flag—like PlusPrivacy.
This open-source service, financially backed by the European Commission, is a little Jekyll and Hyde when it comes to data privacy, but it’s a valuable tool that can help you lock down your online accounts with a few mouse clicks. It’s also great for letting you know if you’ve been giving third-party apps and services have a little too much leeway with your information.
Letting PlusPrivacy (safely) borrow the keys to your digital kingdom
Once you install PlusPrivacy’s Chrome extension and create an account on the service, you can log into its site to check your data privacy settings on four major social networks: Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter. The site’s UI is terrible—no getting around that—and there’s no way to see what settings you’re currently using. Don’t let that stop you. Any adjustments you make will immediately go live on the sites themselves, as if you flicked the switch on Google’s own settings page.
As well, PlusPrivacy’s “single click privacy” option, which you can access by clicking “social networks” on the website’s left sidebar, is great for your friends and loved ones who really don’t know the first thing about data privacy. With a few clicks of a mouse, PlusPrivacy will adjust various settings on those four social networks to what it considers to be their most privacy-friendly options—and you can always go back and tweak from there, if you or your friends need a little more leeway.
The real power of PlusPrivacy
What I actually found most useful about PlusPrivacy wasn’t its settings menu—I’d rather navigate through privacy settings on the big online services directly to ensure I’m not missing anything important.
PlusPrivacy’s “Extensions & Apps” section is much more eye-opening. It’s here that PlusPrivacy does a great job of quickly informing you just how much information you’re giving other apps and services.
For example, take a look at how Facebook presents the various apps you’ve granted access to your data.
Pretty icons. A tiny mention of the publishing rights you’ve given an app—hardly the largest concern. And that’s it. To discover the data an app can actually glean from your account, you have to tap on each icon individually and scroll through a checkmark list. Feh.
You see the same apps in PlusPrivacy’s interface. However, each app comes with a list of all the permissions you’ve granted—color-coded, too.
Green, for example, indicates that it’s probably not that big a deal that you let another service see your public profile. If you gave an app your birthday and the ability to view your current address, that’s a red. Not good.
Thanks to PlusPrivacy, I was able to learn that connecting my Samsung Smart TV to Facebook has basically ensured that it knows everything about me and everything I’m doing at every moment of my life. Whoops.
Don’t sell your life to PlusPrivacy
As I mentioned earlier, PlusPrivacy has its pros and cons. On one hand, it’s a useful tool for locking down social media accounts and reviewing data permissions. On the other, the service eventually wants to let you give up some of your privacy—by allowing other services to access more information about you, we presume—for some random swag or offers.
We respect that PlusPrivacy doesn’t require to submit logins for the social services it’s willing to adjust on your behalf—hence the browser extension. And the developers of the service do seem genuinely interested in helping you stay safer online. Resist the urge to sell out, should PlusPrivacy ever roll out that feature. Keep your data secret; keep it safe.
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