Whether you're worried about your computer ever crashing, being stolen, or you just want a secure way to store your files online for easy access anytime you need them, signing up for an online backup service is a smart move.
So what's the best service? If you've taken a look at our online backup comparison page, you may have noticed that there are 7 top services that each have 5 out of 5 stars, so how do you choose among the best? This depends on your specific needs.
Try our free online backup chooser, which will guide you through the steps on choosing the best service for you. Plus, here are some questions to ask yourself before you choose a service:
How many computers do I need to back up? If you only have one computer to back up, Carbonite is the number one top rated service according to our editors. One subscription with Carbonite gives you unlimited storage space for one computer, meaning you can back up all of your files and add to your back up limitlessly. Also, if you have more computers and want to share some files and folders between them, but not necessarily back them up, then Carbonite's new feature, "Currents" can help you sync these files across devices. On the other hand, if you want to back up more than one computer, we suggest trying Mozy or SugarSync. For Mozy, each additional computer added to your subscription costs an extra $2.00/month. With SugarSync, you can back up and sync an unlimited number of computers. Both of these services base their plans on the number of Gigabytes you purchase for storage.
What is my budget? If you've answered the question above, now you can start thinking about your budget. As a rule of thumb, annual plans are always cheaper than paying month-to-month, so we recommend always signing up for an annual plan — plus, why would you want to only back up your computer for a few months, anyway? Carbonite's yearly plan with the NextAdvisor discount is $53.10, while SugarSync's base plan of 30GB for unlimited computers is $49.99 for the year. If you're looking for the cheapest service, then SOS Online Backup is for you at 50% off for the year, coming to just $39.96 for the year, after you try out the 30-day free trial.
Which extras do I want? If you want the ability to sync folders and files across all of your devices, then you're in luck because all of the top 5 services offer this cool feature. However, if we had to choose our favorite syncing service, it would have to be SugarSync, with their intuitive and attractive sync manager. If you want a service that allows you to create your own encryption key and has a true, no-knowledge password policy, then Spideroak is the way to go for added security. Check out this post that explains Spideroak's top-notch security features.
Want backup for your business? Check out our business online backup reviews.
As the Internet has become an integral part of our daily lives, more of our personal information is becoming less personal. It is for this very reason that we have International Data Privacy Day, which is celebrated on January 28th each year to help raise awareness and promote education about online privacy.
- Check out Google’s removal request tool: Google has a great tool that allows you to ask Google to remove search results or cached content if you believe the information warrants removal from Google's services based on applicable laws. This is a simple form that can be filled out in a matter of minutes.
- Contact sites directly: This is definitely a tedious process, but you can contact particular sites and companies that have your personal information and politely ask them to erase it. If you find incorrect information about yourself on a background or people search site, check out this blog post that explains some ways you can remove the inaccurate information.
- Do not track: AVG security software has developed a tool that allows you to opt out of tracking on most web browsers. This means that browsers like Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox won’t be able to track your Internet behavior.
- Keep your identity protected: Remember, if you find false information, or are afraid that your data is being used fraudulently, signing up for an identity theft protection service can help notify you of any fraudulent activity concerning your identity.
The most important thing to keep in mind when protecting your online privacy, is to be aware. Until there is further innovation that closes the rift between usability and consumer privacy, it is always a great idea to read privacy policies on sites that you know you will be entering any kind of personal information. Awareness is a great prevention tool, even if reading the fine print can be tedious.
Want to get the most up-to-date advice, news and deals that NextAdvisor has to offer? Sign up for our newsletter, NextAdvisor Alert. Every week we deliver all of the best NextAdvisor updates straight to your inbox. What does that include?
Answers to Reader Questions: Have a question about one of the services we review? Ask us! Each week we answer a bunch of reader questions and pass the answers on to you.
Deals: The newsletter also includes all the best deals from the week that are exclusive to NextAdvisor readers.
New Reviews and Features: We are constantly adding new reviews and new features to our site, and our newsletter is the perfect place to read all about the most up-to-date releases from NextAdvisor.
If you want access to all the best advice, deals and new features from NextAdvisor, sign up for our newsletter, NextAdvisor Alert, below.
SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER HERE:
People switching over to VoIP service from traditional phone service (also known as Plain Old Telephone Service, or POTS) often have questions about faxing with VoIP. Though it might seem obvious that faxes would work over a VoIP line in the same way they work over a POTS line, the real mechanism is much more complicated and often challenging.
To understand the problem with blending VoIP phone lines and traditional fax machines, we need to understand how VoIP differs from POTS. As far as interference with faxing goes, there are differences in two big areas: switching and compression.
Switching: One big difference between the two kinds of phone service is how they handle "switching," or sending the audio signal back and forth between the two parties in the call. A POTS line connects a call using a method called circuit switching. With circuit switching, the caller's phone and the recipient's phone are connected in a continuous, physical circuit, meaning the voice signal is sent in a loop, back and forth between the phones, throughout the entire phone call. When you are talking over a POTS phone line, your call takes up that space on the line–you are essentially renting time on the wires.
VoIP does not work this way. Instead, it takes advantage of the same system used to load images and information when you surf the internet on your computer: packet switching. Instead of establishing a single connection between two phones and sending the signal constantly back and forth, VoIP providers cut the voice signal up into small chunks, called packets. They then attach a specific set of directions to each packet, indicating which recipient should get the packets and how to reassemble them, and release the packets into the network through your router. The packets trickle through the internet individually, each one taking the path of least resistance rather than following the same route every time. On the other end, a gateway, ATA, or IP phone (click here for more information about these terms) receives the packets, building up a buffer of them before reassembling them into a voice signal and transmitting them either over a POTS line to the recipient, or directly out of the phone, if they've been received by an ATA or IP phone. If the system detects silence on one end or the other, it discards those silent packets instead of sending them. This saves bandwidth by not using the network to send silence when one party is just listening.
This system allows VoIP providers to send calls using a minimum of data, which helps keep costs down and makes phone calls smoother. Since we cannot hear the tiny lag while the system disassembles and reassembles the voice signal, we usually do not detect any choppiness or audio flaws, even if the system loses a packet or two, which happens from time to time.
A fax machine, however, has very precise "hearing." When a fax machine sends a message, it does so by transmitting a solid, detailed patch of sound over the voice line, which the recipient machine interprets to recreate the image or document. This patch of sound can contain precisely calculated segments of silence as well as very fine modulations. When the VoIP system cuts the signal up into packets to send it, it can create distortions or lose packets, which will cause the fax to fail.
Compression: The second big category of fax failures with VoIP systems are those related to compression. VoIP systems use coder-decoders, known as codecs, to compress the audio signal of your call for efficient transmission over the internet. The codec samples the audio signal, pulling a small piece out several thousand times per second. Depending on the codec, the system may sample the sound 64,000 times per second, 32,000 times per second, or 8,000 times per second. Many VoIP systems use a G.729A codec that samples 8,000 times per second. The system uses the same codec again on the other side to reassemble those thousands of samples back into a continuous audio signal. The human ear cannot detect the tiny missing pieces between these audio samples. However, a fax machine can "hear" those missing pieces, and may not be able to correctly reassemble the document or image being transmitted without them, which can cause a fax transmission to fail.
Solutions: Different providers suggest different solutions to these problems for VoIP users. You can adjust some of the settings on your fax machine and your VoIP account to make fax transmission more successful, like choosing a codec that samples more often or setting your fax machine to send the signal more slowly to build in some tolerance for gaps and lost packets, but most VoIP providers recommend that you use a dedicated fax line for anything more than occasional faxes. Some VoIP providers even offer integrated faxing capabilities. Business VoIP services often support internet faxing with additional lines: you can see the faxing capabilities various business providers offer on our compare chart.
For residential users, here are the recommendations made by some of our top VoIP providers for home faxing:
Vonage: You can use your Vonage voice line for occasional faxes, but if you plan to fax frequently, Vonage strongly recommends you add a dedicated fax line to your plan. A fax line is included with most business plans, and residential customers can add the basic fax line to their package for $9.99 per month.
VOIPo: VOIPo does not guarantee that your fax machine will work with their connection and does not provide extensive support if you have trouble faxing. You can add virtual faxing to your plan, which will allow you to send faxes from your computer and receive them via email for $4.95 per month or $36.00 per year.
Phone Power: Phone Power recommends that you just connect your fax machine directly to the Analog Telephone Adapter, or ATA (check the NextAdvisor Guide to VoIP Equipment for more information about ATAs), they send when you sign up. Phone Power also offers a "Fax Catcher" feature, which will send incoming faxes to your email if your fax machine is not connected to the line.
Phone.com: Phone.com provides some support for using a traditional fax machine over the regular VoIP line, but warns that fax machines may not be reliable with VoIP. For the best results, Phone.com recommends that you add a second phone number to your plan and use their Internet Faxing interface to send and receive faxes through your computer.
New VoIP users often ask us what equipment they'll need to make and receive calls with their new service. Since the necessary equipment can vary depending on your service and the features you need, we've compiled the following rundown of all your VoIP options.
VoIP calls can be made in three main ways:
- With an analog telephone adaptor (ATA)
- Through an IP phone
- From computer to computer
Each of these methods requires different equipment and has its own pros and cons. The first two options are the ones you'll choose from if you're replacing your home or business telephone service with VoIP, while the third is best suited for occasional voice or video calls. Let's run through the options:
Analog Telephone Adaptors (ATAs)
If you're planning to replace your home telephone service with VoIP, by far the simplest and most common solution is the first: an analog telephone adaptor, or ATA. An ATA is a small device, usually a plastic box that looks a lot like a cable modem or router. ATAs allow you to continue using your regular telephone with VoIP service. Generally, ATAs have an ethernet port, where you will plug in a cable from your router to provide the adaptor with an internet connection, and a traditional phone port, where you will connect the ATA to a regular home or office phone using the cable that came with your phone. Most ATAs also have a few lights on the top, a power plug into the wall, and maybe a display window.
You don't need to worry about picking out the right ATA because your VoIP provider will almost certainly send the proper device to you when you sign up for their service. Sometimes an ATA is included in the price of service, and sometimes the provider will charge an extra fee for the equipment. Most adaptors are pretty user-friendly, fairly inexpensive, and really need only be plugged in to the internet, the phone, and a power supply to work right out of the box. Our top choices for VoIP service, including Vonage, VOIPo, Phone Power, and Phone.com provide users with ATAs.
A few providers, mostly business-focused companies, do not provide ATAs, but instead require that you purchase an IP phone, also known as a VoIP-enabled phone. Instead of having a traditional phone line port, an IP phone will have a port for an ethernet cable, which looks a lot like an oversized phone jack. Essentially, an IP phone incorporates the equipment in an ATA right into the phone, bypassing the need to have a separate device to connect your phone to the internet. VoIP phones run from about $70 to several hundred dollars apiece, depending on their features and the number of lines they're equipped to handle. Most VoIP services that require or recommend IP phones offer a few models or can direct you to their preferred options, including our top business VoIP choices, Nextivia, Vocalocity, Apptix, and Phonebooth.
There is usually little or no appreciable difference between an IP phone and a traditional phone in call quality or experience for a basic phone call. Where you will notice the difference is in some of the extra features VoIP can provide, like visual voicemail, access to a more complex contact list, or a virtual call attendant. These features, when available, can usually be accessed by ATA users through their computers.
Overwhelmingly, VoIP users with IP phones are businesses who require advanced calling features. The one exception to this has traditionally been Skype users, since Skype's telephone-based VoIP service initially worked only with an IP phone. However, Skype has recently begun offering an ATA option as well, which is a less expensive alternative to replacing your home phone system with an IP phone system.
Computer to Computer
If you've used Skype or another video or voice-chatting program over your computer, this is the method you're familiar with. There are a couple of free options for video and voice chatting available, including Skype, GChat, and iChat. These programs require no equipment beyond your computer, maybe a webcam, and a fast enough internet connection. The downside of computer-to-computer VoIP is that you can generally only call for free from one computer to another and the recipient must already be at the computer and signed in to receive your call. Unless you purchase a headset or dedicated microphone, sound quality can be shaky and echoey. If you wish to call regular landline phones with a computer-based VoIP system, you generally must pay an additional fee, often by the minute.
Computer-to-computer VoIP will not replace a traditional telephone service very well unless you can spend all your time at the computer and logged in, but it can be a good choice for staying in touch inexpensively with a friend or family member who is overseas or across the country, provided you can schedule your call time in advance.
If you have any other questions about VoIP equipment, check out our VoIP section here.
Several large companies have rolled out cloud storage products recently: Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Apps for Business (of which cloud storage is only a part), Windows Live SkyDrive, and Apple iCloud, which isn't available until fall. On NextAdvisor, we review online backup services, some of which can also be classified as cloud storage. Let's use SugarSync, the most cloud-like of the online backup services we review, as an example. What's the difference? Which is best? Let's find out.
Starting Monthly Price
- Amazon: Free with account
- Google: $5
- Windows: Free with account
- Apple: Free with iOS on iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch
- SugarSync: $4.99
GB of Storage Included
- Amazon: 5GB
- Google: 1GB
- Windows: 25GB, individual files limited to 100MB
- Apple: 5GB
- SugarSync: 30GB
- Amazon: SSL encryption; only eight devices allowed to access your music via Cloud Player
- Google: advanced capabilities and expanded limits for other Google products, such as Gmail and Google Calendar; SSL enforcement for secure HTTPS access
- Windows: configured by permissions set by the user; all content is marked as "public" by default
- Apple: might not allow previous data to be uploaded if not purchased with or created using an Apple product; only allows sharing of calendars;
- SugarSync: triple-encrypted; optional passwords for shared storage
- Amazon: Amazon Cloud Player for listening to music files, especially MP3s downloaded from Amazon
- Google: part of Google Apps for Business, so cloud storage limited to Google Docs
- Windows: Word Doc collaboration even if you don't have Microsoft Office; simple sharing to social networks
- Apple: keeps email, contacts, apps, and calendars up-to-date across all your Apple devices; pushes files to all of your Apple devices; no data encryption
- SugarSync: backs up external drives; mobile apps allow you to stream remotely stored music, view documents, and upload photos to SugarSync account
While each cloud storage service has unique features, none of them backs up your computer automatically; you must manually add new files to store in the cloud. This is the main advantage to SugarSync: You can schedule automatic backups of your computer after you tell SugarSync which folders to back up. Windows and Google allow you to work on your documents in the cloud without saving to your computer first, but because you keep your data not only in the cloud but also on your computer when you use online backup, you'll be able to work on it even when you're not connected to the Internet.
SugarSync starts at $4.99 a month for 30GB of storage space, which works out to $0.17/GB. Only Google has a pricier option, but Google's cloud storage is not the focus of its business apps package. However, the price is worth the other features as well as the ability to have a lot of space; SugarSync starts at 30GB, but the highest anyone else (Windows) goes is 25GB. You can use SugarSync across multiple platforms, unlike iCloud, which only works on Apple devices. SugarSync has better file security, so you know no one can see your data unless you want them to. The mobile app is unique—you must be on your computer connected to the Internet to acces most cloud storage services.
Cloud storage can be helpful for data you can replace if necessary, but if you really need to keep your hard drive's files safe, secure, and accessible, SugarSync is the way to go.
Let's face it: Almost everyone's on Facebook, and if you're not, chances are you'll succumb to social pressure to sign up eventually. It's a great way to connect with friends and family all over the world and easily share your experiences with others. However, it's not a good idea to go sharing personal information willy-nilly.
Facebook has made a number of updates to privacy settings since we wrote this popular post in 2008. So here we've collected an updated list of six ways to manage your privacy on Facebook and keep your personal information safe:
1. Limit the amount of personal information available on your profile.
A poll of Facebook users commissioned by NextAdvisor.com found that 27% of respondents listed their full name, date of birth, phone number, and email address on their Facebook profile. An additional 8% of respondents included all of that information plus their physical address on their profile. Many Facebook users also list other personal data, such as their spouse or significant other's name or birthday. In the hands of identity thieves, that type of information can be dangerous.
For example, an identity thief may be able to use your home address and phone number to submit a change of address form with the United States Postal Service and have your mail forwarded. This would allow access to even more sensitive information in order to open financial or other accounts in your name.
Savvy identity thieves can use contextual information in your profile to hack into online accounts. It can tip them off to potential user names and passwords you may use. Once an online account—whether an email, credit card, or other account—has been accessed, it can cause even further harm. It just gets easier for identity thieves: A recently released Android app can hack Facebook accounts if they are open on the same wireless network! Our recommendation is to limit the amount of personal information that is available on your Facebook profile:
- Never list your full date of birth, phone number, or physical address on your Facebook profile. Your real friends and associates will likely already know this information, so including it on your profile will only increase your risk of being victimized.
- Limit the amount of contextual password clues on your profile pages. Identity thieves know that many people use their birthday, a spouse or significant other's name or birthday, an anniversary date, mother's maiden name, pet's name, or other personal information as passwords on their personal accounts. It is also a good idea to make sure your online passwords don't include these types of personal items.
2. Proactively manage your privacy settings.
There are many components to managing your Facebook privacy settings. But we've broken it down for you here:
Facebook's main purpose is sharing. However, like many people, you might have certain things you only want to share with only your networks, your friends, or just a chosen few. Luckily, Facebook makes this easy. When you click "Privacy Settings" under your "Account" tab, you'll see a list of what you share and with whom you share it.
The Privacy Settings page starts with a reminder that you can choose who sees your individual status updates while you are uploading the status. There is a drop down menu right next to the "Post" button that gives you the option of who will see that individual status.
After that, you can set your default privacy setting (in case you don't want to choose a setting each time you post or for those apps that don't let you choose.) It gives you an option of sharing with the Public, Friends or a custom setting that you can control.
Below that are 5 sections that you can customize to help keep your Facebook page private. They are:
How You Connect
By default, your name, profile picture, gender, and networks are visible to everyone, but you can change who sees those when you click on "Edit Your Profile" on your Facebook homepage. The How You Connect section lets you adjust who sees your email and phone number, who can send you friend requests and who can send you messages. You could set everything to "Friends only," but you'd cut down on the chances of old friends and co-workers finding you. Instead, set them based on how private you think that information is or should be.
Profile and Tagging
The next control is over tagged items. When you're tagged in a photo or video and you want to override the default setting you selected for tags on the privacy page, remove the tag, which will also keep it from showing up on your profile. Remember that this doesn't keep the owner of the photo or video from sharing the picture (sans your tag) with people who aren't your friends.
Ads, Apps and Websites
When you click on Ads, Apps and Websites, one of the most useful tools is at the top. "Apps you use" allows you to turn off all applications or remove unwanted or spammy applications. You'll probably be surprised just how many applications you've said "yes" to. If you find ones that look suspicious or you simply don't want anymore, click them to expand. You can then view the last time the app accessed your data or remove the application altogether.
But perhaps most important to your privacy is how your information is used by other sites and apps. Click "Edit settings" next to "How people bring your info to apps they use." It will bring up a pop-up window that you can use to control which of your information is available to applications, games and websites when your friends use them. We recommend that you uncheck these items.
Next, you can control who can see your game and app activity. This button functions much like the other buttons on the main privacy page.
If you're not wild about the websites you visit knowing a lot about you, edit your "Instant personalization" settings, and uncheck the box at the bottom. This prevents Facebook's select partner sites from accessing the information that you've set as visible to everyone.
Lastly, we recommend that you disable public search. This setting controls whether information you share with everyone shows up in searches on and off Facebook. If someone Googles you, do you want your Facebook profile to show up? If it's a childhood friend, perhaps, but if it's an identity thief, you might think otherwise. There's a small "See preview" link here, too, so you can see how your page would look to someone arriving at your profile from a search engine.
Limit the Audience for Past Posts
This option allows you to manage all of your previous posts, for example, the ones that you posted before Facebook allowed for individual post sharing options. The option basically allows you to keep things as they were or switch to your past posts only being available to friends.
Blocked People and Apps
There are many reasons you might want to block a person or application from seeing your Facebook profile. So when you click "Manage blocks" at the bottom center of the main privacy page, you can enter names of your Facebook friends or email addresses of people who are not your friends and click "block user." This means that person cannot be your friend or interact with you on Facebook, except inside apps or games you both use.
You can also block invitations from this screen. Is a friend who lives across the continent spamming you with invites that you can't possibly accept, or does an otherwise nice pal keep inviting you to play FarmVille even though you've declined multiple times? Type the name into the fields to block only their invitations.
Finally, you can view your blocked applications from this page. Blocking an app means it can't contact you or use your information anymore. To block an app, though, you need to go to the app's Facebook page and click "Block app."
These are our best suggestions for using Facebook's privacy settings. CEO Mark Zuckerburg maintains that users can expect privacy from Facebook's advertisers. Facebook doesn't sell personal data to its advertisers, but some ads include a Like button, and some or pair a profile picture of a friend who "liked" the ad or company with it to make it more relevant to you. And when you see Facebook content on another website, that site doesn't receive any of your profile information.
Still, with all the data floating around out there and the potential for identity thieves to socially engineer themselves into our lives, consider an identity theft protection service.
3. Only accept friend requests from people you know.
According to another recent Facebook poll commissioned by NextAdvisor.com, 49% of respondents said that they accept some or all friend requests that they receive from people they don't know. What many Facebook users may not realize is that by accepting friend requests from people they don't know, they are potentially opening themselves up to identity theft or related crimes. As a general rule, we suggest that Facebook users only accept friend requests from people that they already know or whose identity they can verify through some other means. Here are some ways to safely add new friends on Facebook:
- When you receive a friend request from people you already know, verify that they are who they say they are by sending them an email or giving them a phone call. It is easy for someone to set up a phony profile under the name of someone you know and trust in order to extract additional information from you.
- If you don't recognize the person who is making the friend request, feel free to ask how he or she knows you by sending a Facebook message before accepting. If you get no answer or a suspicious one, you can investigate further or simply ignore this friend request.
- Some experts believe that social networks like Facebook may become the next target of sophisticated phishing scams designed to steal your online passwords or other personal information. If you receive a friend request or other information over email purporting to be from Facebook, log into your Facebook account directly rather than clicking on any links in the email to verify that the communication is actually coming from the Facebook system.
4. Limit the amount of check-ins and "time and place" data that you expose.
Facebook gives users many opportunities to broadcast their schedule and whereabouts to their friends. Whether it is a simple status update or detailed itinerary, criminals can use information about your current or upcoming whereabouts to victimize you in a number of ways.
For example, if you publicly announce an out-of-town vacation or plans to attend a certain event, criminals can use this information to determine when your home may be most susceptible to a burglary. This could open you up to any number of forms of identity theft or worse. Also exercise caution when you "check in" somewhere using Facebook Places. If you verify that you are at a faraway location, you could endure similar consequences.
In general, we strongly recommend that Facebook users not publish specifics about whereabouts and schedules.
5. Remember that even people you know can be identity thieves.
Unfortunately, several recent studies show that a significant number of identity theft victims know the person who victimized them.
Javelin Research found that a shocking 43% of identity theft crimes are perpetrated by people whom the victim knows, such as friends or family members. Additionally, the most common perpetrators of identity theft against children are the child's parent.
We strongly recommend that, even if you know and trust all of your Facebook friends, you still follow all these tips to prevent yourself from falling victim to identity theft.
6. Consider an identity theft protection service.
Identity theft, both online and in the real world, remains a growing threat to all Americans. We recommend that all consumers consider using a proactive identity theft protection service, such as Identity Guard or LifeLock, to protect their identity.
Each identity theft protection service is different, but most will do the following:
- Monitor your credit report and other personal information for fraudulent use.
- Provide you with identity theft insurance that will reimburse you on costs and expense you incur as a result of being victimized.
- Provide you with copies of your credit report.
You can learn more about the various benefits of identity theft protection services and about the specific services we review by visiting our identity theft protection service guide and comparison.
While social networks like Facebook can be fun and productive services, it is important for users to be aware of the risks that they pose. Taking proactive steps to protect your identity on Facebook will only improve the amount of enjoyment you can get out of the service.
Parental control software allows parents to monitor the Internet activity of their kids, set online time limits, as well as institute blocking policies for forbidden content. Not all parental control software is created equal, of course, and our rigorous review process really sorted the good from the bad. But even the best parental control software is useless if the computer is not set up correctly. Smart kids can get around the software if there are security holes. This guide aims to provide the basics that will help parents prepare their computers, no matter which software they choose.
1. Think About Passwords and Security Questions
Your parental control software is only as affective as your passwords and security questions. You'll need to come up with good passwords for both your parental control software and your Windows account. You can use the same password for both as long as it's good. What makes it good? It needs to be hard to guess, but easy to remember. If you're stuck for ideas, you can try a random password generator, though its results can be difficult to remember. Later, when you set up your parental control software, you'll need a security question, in case you forget the password. Make sure it's nothing your kid can guess or find out (be wary of biographical questions whose answers may be discoverable via Facebook, such as "High school mascot.").
2. Set Up Your Accounts
Armed with a good password, you're ready to set up your accounts. If your computer currently does not require you to log in, you don't have any accounts enabled. You can get to the "Manage Accounts" page by typing "User Accounts" in the Windows Start Menu. You need at least two accounts for parental control software to work its best:
A) Administrator account. We've called it "Parent" to make things easier, but it can be anything. You'll also set the password on this screen. If there is no password, you'll see an option to "Create a password." If there's already a password, it will say "Change the password."
B) Standard User account. We've called it "Kid" because it'll be easier to keep track for this demonstration. It should have a password too.
C) Additionally, you'll want to make sure the Guest account is either turned off, or has a password, so kids can't use that as a non-protected alternate account.
3. Make Sure "User Account Control" Is Enabled
Most Windows systems will already have this option turned on and configured, but make sure it is on your computer. You'll find this option at the bottom of the User Accounts control panel. The reason it's important to have User Account Control turned on is because it forces the system to ask for a password when new software is installed. This will prevent Regular Users from installing software that could be used to fool the parental control software. On Windows Vista it's a simple on/off switch, while on Windows 7 there are several settings (see here). We recommend "Always Notify."
4. Install and Setup Your Parental Control Software
When you install your parental control software you'll be able to choose which accounts you'll be monitoring and filtering content for . These should map directly to the accounts you've already set up. You probably don't want your own Administrator account to be monitored, but you probably do want to monitor the Regular User Account. If you haven't yet purchased parental control software, check out our comparison and reviews. We put six of the most popular products through rigorous tests to find the best.
School is just about starting for millions of college students across the country. We would guess that most of those students aren't thinking much about identity theft. But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't.
Identity theft among college students is also known as "friendly fraud" because the perpetrators are often casual acquaintances or room mates. It's during college that many young people first apply for credit cards and open up their own bank accounts. This is one reason why college students are at an increased risk, since most have not played a significant role in their own finances before. They are often not used to monitoring their credit and bank accounts.
College students by-and-large live in communal situations, living with roommates and in dorm rooms. This means exposure to a lot of new people, not all of whom are trustworthy. Mail is often lost, stolen, or misdirected. Credit card statements can be gold to a potential identity thief.
Another risk comes from the Internet. Many college students will find themselves in possession of their own computers for the first time, or using public computers in libraries, computer labs and dorm rooms. If those computers are not secured and are infected with spyware, personal information is just a click away for identity thieves.
The big shock to me, upon entering college, was how often I was asked for my social security number: at the financial aid office, the library, the student health center, the office, the ubiquitous credit card tables—heck, I could barely get a salad in the cafeteria without handing over my social security number. Often the people processing these transactions were students themselves, not people I had a lot of faith in.
- Keep an eye on your mail. Consider using a post office box for important financial documents, or sign up for online payments and billing. When you move, make sure your mail follows you.
- Watch your bank and credit card balances. The beginning of the school year is a time for high credit card use, so watch for anything unusual.
- Get a paper shredder and a locking file cabinet. No, these aren't the coolest of dorm room accessories, but they can keep important documents safe from prying eyes. A safe deposit box is also a good idea for passports, birth certificates, and other sensitive documents.
- Get a lockdown cable for your computer. You can use it to lock your laptop, desktop, or tablet PC to your desk. You have more personal information on your laptop than you realize. While you're at it, password protect your computer.
- Avoid using public computers for sensitive data input.
- Invest in identity theft protection. This way you can be alerted to fraudulent activity before it wrecks your finances.
- Keep your computer protected with Internet security software. Identity thieves use malware and spyware to steal personal information.
- Be careful of whom you give your social security number to. Also, watch for eavesdroppers.
- Secure your living space. Parties are the hallmarks of collegiate life, but they can also leave your living space open to people you don't know. Keep your valuables hidden and locked down.
The more precautions you take, the less you'll have to worry about. That way you can spend more time on the stuff that matters.
A lot has changed since we posted our original Facebook Identity Theft Protection Guide. But one thing that hasn't changed is the potential for identity thieves, cyber stalkers, marketers, and other unsavory types to learn about you on Facebook. Now, Facebook's new privacy settings are beginning to roll out to its users. What these changes will mean to you depends a lot on how much you like to share and how carefully you've maintained your privacy settings in the past. If you already locked down your settings, you may not have much to do, but you'll have a new way to manage them.
The settings in the following guide can be best described as reasonably cautious, but not obsessively paranoid. Before we get into what information sharing you can control, here's what you have to share: name, profile picture, and gender. Other things are up to you. What should you allow? While there's probably no answer that's right for everyone, we offer this blanket piece of advice: if any piece of data can be used as a security question on a website, limit its visibility. This can include family relationships, school affiliation, pet names, date of birth, make of car, etc.
But before we go much further, let's review the number one threat to your privacy on Facebook: You. More specifically, it's the choices you make. The people you friend, the apps you install, the settings you choose, the status updates you make, and most importantly: the password you choose. All the privacy settings in the world can't stop users from choosing bad passwords, falling for a phishing attempt, or clicking on a malicious link.
1. Choose Your Privacy Settings
Facebook has greatly simplified the privacy controls with three basic user categories: "Everyone," "Friends of Friends," and "Friends Only." Additionally there's a Facebook-recommended setting and, if you've tinkered with your privacy settings, you'll see that setting too. These categories are the core of Facebook privacy. "Everyone" means pretty much everyone, including, sometimes, other sites.
This is what Facebook recommends, but it may be too open for some (including us):
Personally we like the more conservative "Friends Only" setting. Although this setting has a check mark that allows friends of your friends to see photos you've uploaded if your friend is tagged in it (i.e., if you took a picture of George at the Tasty-Freeze and tagged it as such then George's friend Gena would be able to see your photo, even if you're not friends with Gena). It's more private without this item checked, so to keep photos from folks you may not know, uncheck this box.
2. Basic Directory Information
Now it's time to dig deeper. Facebook's page that explains the new privacy settings mentions that by default other information including hometown and interests, is visible by default to help friends and other people you have things in common with connect with you (a.k.a, networks). This is not controlled on the Privacy Settings page, but on a separate screen you access by clicking View settings at the top of the Choose Your Privacy Settings screen.
Set these limits to what you're comfortable with. You could set everything to "Friends only" but you'd cut down on the chances of old friends and co-workers finding you. Instead, set them based on how private you think that information is, or should be. Tip: never make your high school visible to "Everyone" if you've used "what's your high school mascot?" as a security question on another website. We do recommend setting stricter visibility limits on "See my friend list." Such information could help identity thieves to engage in a little social engineering or get information such as your mother's maiden name (if, you know, your mom is your friend).
Likewise with See my current city or hometown and See my interests and other pages. Do you really want everyone to know where you live? Publicly viewable information can help phishers and other social hackers target attacks specifically towards you.
This page has one other incredibly useful feature and you'll find it at the top right. Preview my profile will show you what your profile looks like to Everyone on Facebook. We recommend everyone do this. In fact, we think Facebook should make this the first thing you see when looking at your privacy settings.
3. Applications, Games and Websites
Next you'll want to go back to the main privacy page and Edit your settings for using applications, games and websites. This link is on the bottom left. You'll then be brought to the page below:
You'll find one of the most useful tools at the top. What you're using allows you to turn off all applications or remove unwanted or "spammy applications," as Facebook puts it. You'll probably be surprised just how many applications you've said yes to. If you find ones that look suspicious or you simply don't want anymore, check them. Then click Remove Selected.
But perhaps most important to your privacy, the thing that has a lot of people up-in-arms, is how your information is used by other sites and in Facebook apps. This is now controlled via the Info accessible through your friends link. It will bring up a pop-up window that you can use to control which of your information is available to applications, games and websites when your friends use them. If that sounds creepy to you, uncheck these items (or check away if you think this sounds like a good idea) and save your changes.
If you're not wild about the websites you visit knowing a lot about you, click the Instant personalization link and uncheck the box at the bottom. This prevents Facebook's select partner sites from accessing the information that you've set as visible to Everyone. According to Facebook, this personalization only currently works on Docs, Pandora, and Yelp. More sites will probably follow.
Lastly, you may want to disable Public search. This setting controls whether things you've specifically chosen to share with everyone (will) show up in searches on and off Facebook. If you haven't made much info made visible to Everyone, then you don't have a lot to worry about. Still, if someone Googles you, do you want your Facebook profile to show up? If it's a childhood friend, perhaps. If it's an identity thief, you might think otherwise. Our advice is to disable it, though really old friends or new thieves will find their way to Facebook to search for you anyway. There's a preview option here too, so you can see how your page would look to someone arriving at your profile from a search engine.
These are our best suggestions for using Facebook's new privacy settings. The promise from CEO Mark Zuckerburg is that these are stable, and any future Facebook changes will respect the settings you've chosen. He's also promised that Facebook users can expect privacy from Facebook's advertisers. While marketing is targeted, Facebook doesn't sell personal data to its advertisers.
Still, with all the data floating around out there, and the potential for identity thieves to socially engineer themselves into our lives, consider an identity theft protection service.
Disclosure: NextAdvisor.com is a consumer information site that offers free, independent reviews and ratings of online services. We receive advertising revenue from most of the services we review. Our editors thoroughly research and whenever possible test each service we review and offer their honest opinions about each one. We are independently owned and operated and all opinions expressed on this site are our own.