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How to Beat the Latest Danger to Your Data

I like to tinker. I cut my mechanical teeth on an ancient '67 VW hatchback, a decrepit '73 lime-green Datsun and a Chevy Camaro that had seen better days. When I started playing guitar, I extended my fiddling habits to electronics. To this day, I repair my own instruments and amplifiers and build my own computers.

That's probably why a few years ago, I found solace in a fascinating book by philosopher and motorcycle repair-shop owner Matthew Crawford. He argues that modern technology strips us of a vital aspect of our humanity — our ability to interact with and understand the things we use. From car engines to cellphones, technology is designed to be sleek, mysterious and inaccessible, making us dependent — and exploitable.

This blind dependence on technology could endanger your personal privacy … unless you learn a few online privacy tips.

Hiding the Works

“Hide the works” is an industrial design term describing contemporary vehicle engines. When I looked under the hood of my ‘76 Camaro, I saw mechanical parts I could identify, understand and manipulate. Today's engine compartments typically present an impenetrable block, rendering everything underneath inaccessible except to the “experts.”

Modern information technology is the ultimate in “hide the works.” Our computers and cellphones perform essential tasks using invisible systems that are beyond our control. Email, web browsing, file transfers, text messaging and phone calls all depend on infrastructure controlled by...