PrivacyScan: Protecting Your Privacy Both Online and Off

As more of our lives are shared online, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of the things we want to keep private. You may be surprised how much of a trail you leave behind just from browsing the Internet. From saved cookies to form history, your personal information is scattered around your computer and the web.

Many applications on your Mac, including browsers, offer different settings to let you control what is and isn’t saved. However, it can be a complicated process to manually go through dozens of settings screens to ensure that everything is set in a way that will protect your privacy. PrivacyScan from Secure Mac helps you easily delete all of these potentially sensitive pieces of information.

The Basics

Your computer saves vast amounts of information about what you do on it everyday. From browsing the Internet to watching movies, your hard drive keeps a complete record of your activities. Your reasons for wanting to keep all this information private may range from avoiding awkward conversations with someone else who uses your computer to keeping sensitive business dealings under wraps.

PrivacyScan finds apps on your computer that store information about your browsing history and how you use your computer, then helps you easily erase all that evidence.

Initial Scan

When you open PrivacyScan for the first time, you’ll be guided through all the options with a setup assistant. The first decision you’ll need to make is how secure you want the deletion process to be. You can use the basic delete function, which will stick all the suspect files into the trash. If you are particularly paranoid, you can also choose to do a secure erase which PrivacyScan calls “shredding.” Similar to other secure deletion methods, shredding entails writing over the files several times to prevent third parties from recovering the data.

The setup assistant does a good job explaining each step to you.

Next, the PrivacyScan will take a look at your applications folder and show you what it can work with. For me, the setup assistant found six apps that it wanted to scan. These included three browsers as well as Finder, Quicktime, and Preview. It also wanted to take a look at cookies that had been saved for Flash.

The preference menu allows you to turn on tips, which will give you information about different areas of each window.

You’ll be presented with various options for each app. For Chrome, my primary browser, PrivacyScan asked me for permission to delete nine different types of files, including browsing history and form values. PrivacyScan’s scope of cleaning for other apps is a bit more simplistic. Preview, for instance, only had the option of deleting my recent viewing history.

The options for browsers such as Chrome are extensive.

Once you’ve made your decisions for each app, you are ready to hand the reins over to PrivacyScan and let it do its thing. I ended up essentially giving it carte blanche to clean the apps and checked all the boxes. The window has an animation that will play while the app is working. It resembles a document going into a shredder, with little bits of paper flying out the bottom of the window.

Small shreds of paper fall from the window as it deletes the files.

You also get a full display of each task that PrivacyScan is performing for each app, and once it’s done you’ll see some stats about disk space saved and the number of threats removed. Plus, since everything has to have Twitter integration these days, and because your friends will be dying to know how it went, you can Tweet your results too. The whole process for me took about a minute.

If nothing else, PrivacyScan does seem to save you a lot of drive space.

Future Protection

Now that you’ve eliminated all that evidence, you’re going to want to make sure it stays gone. PrivacyScan claims that it will constantly monitor your system for new apps that may be storing data without your knowledge. Since installing PrivacyScan, however, I haven’t had it popup once to let me know I’ve installed an app that could be storing sensitive information. When you have a job reviewing apps, you download a lot of things, so I’ve been surprised by how quiet PrivacyScan has been.

When I considered the apps it initially scanned, the list was relatively short. The browsers were a natural choice, as was Finder. But if Quicktime is supported, why not VLC? Less common browsers like Raven never showed up. I have literally dozens of other apps that I would have liked to see PrivacyScan clean up. The problem isn’t that I forgot to add other apps to the scanning queue, it’s that PrivacyScan simply doesn’t support them. Scanning these other apps may have been trivial, but then again, how important is it to clear Preview’s recent viewing history?

Do You Need This?

In short, probably not. If you are someone who would rather not let your significant other know what types of sites you’re browsing while he or she is out, then you can easily avoid leaving evidence if you are using your browser in a “private” mode, which all modern browsers have. However, if your privacy concerns are more serious, or you’re just more paranoid about your significant other restoring deleted files, the ability to do a more secure erase may make this app useful.

Ultimately, the features you get for $10 don’t seem to be all that incredible. Frankly, it isn’t really that inconvenient to do all of the same things that PrivacyScan does in your browser. Chrome, for instance, makes it easy to delete cookies and form values from the settings menu. I might consider PrivacyScan to be a convenience if that was a complicated process that involved opening the Resources folder in Finder, but it’s simple. Chrome and other browsers actually give you more flexibility when it comes to browser history, because you can delete only your history from a certain period of time if you’d like.

Other apps that PrivacyScan deals with are even simpler. Clearing your recent history from Preview, for instance, is a matter clicking File > Open Recent > Clear Menu. And Finder? Your Mac has a Secure Erase function built-in. Mountain Lion’s release this year will also bring even stronger security in the form of Gatekeeper, meaning it will be even easier to stay on top of your privacy.

Conclusion

All that said, if you are really interested in having all of your privacy setting access centralized in one place, and you want to have the peace of mind of securely erasing various pieces of evidence of your activities, PrivacyScan is for you. Just be sure these features are worth ten bucks to you.

What about you? Do you use a similar app to protect your privacy?


Summary

A utility for scanning your browsers and other apps, then deleting files that store usage histories.

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  • Sigilist

    Sound review of the ins and outs, pros and cons. Of course there is one thing one can do that’s more important: get your privacy under control beforehand so you don’t have to use such backtracking methods.

    Additionally, “privacy mode” in almost all browsers is a bit of an illusion. It may (or not) protect local privacy; no browser is fully protective of your privacy will out on the web. That takes other more conscientious action.

  • elfsn

    Isn’t the PrivacyScan just a tool to clear all records? All the browsers have this feature, you can even use the in-private mode of your browser. it will clear all your records automatically. As I know, firefox, Avant browser,IE all has in-private mode, and some browsers (no-inprivate mode) like Avant can set to clear all the records automatically when exiting the browser. I think these build-in features of the browser is enough.No need any other additional tools.
    Of course, some other may like this tool.

    • Jonathan Garro

      Yes, and I mention that in the review. I think PrivacyScan markets itself as a way to centralize the process.

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  • http://www.highgatepark.com orlando villas

    Ha ha… I was just surfing around and took a glance at these reviews. I can’t believe that there’s still this much fascination. Thanks for writing about this.

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