Protect your privacy with BugMeNot

Login page of the NYTimes

Two days ago, I linked to a New York Times article that was about AOL’s badly conceived breach of its users’ privacy. As far as I know, availability to that page was not limited just to subscribers or just those who have registered with the New York Times.

However, if you click on the link in about a week’s time, you will likely have to sign in with a username and password to access the article. If you have yet to register with the Times, you will need to provide your email address, gender, date of birth, ZIP code, country of residence, household income, job title, and industry of employment to do so. That’s a lot of information, much of it quite personal.

It is clear why the newspaper would want this information: it helps them understand their readership, resulting in articles that are better-targeted to them.

Because I understand where the Times is coming from, I almost hate to make a fuss about registering with them. It’s a fine newspaper and I love reading their articles. The problem I have, and you can probably empathize, is that I need to register for just about all online newspapers I want to read. It’s a burden and, at times, a privacy risk.

To be sure, the Times has a very good privacy policy. I believe they do not abuse the registration information they collect. But that is not necessarily true for all other publications, and it is far too time-consuming to read the privacy policy of every online publication that requires registration to ensure that the collected data will be treated respectfully.

Even if it were easy to choose which policies were upstanding, it is possible for databases to be hijacked despite the best intentions of their guardians. After all, anything that is stored on the web is not immune to attack from outside or unauthorized mishandling from within.

Login with phony info

One way to get out of this difficulty is to register with phony information. It’s not a great way to build karma, but it will save you from your privacy concerns. Still, it takes time to think of and type in phony names, addresses, and the rest. You will also need to remember your phony username and password the next time you want to login unless you wish to repeat the process.

There is a better way. is a website that collects dummy usernames and passwords for just this purpose. You can go to this website, enter the web address of the publication for which you are trying to avoid registration, and you will be presented with a username and password to use as you please. Excellent.

But it gets better. If you’ve got Firefox, you can incorporate BugMeNot’s functionality right into the browser by installing this extension (an extension is an add-on to your browser that provides additional functionality – you can find more extensions at Firefox’s official repository).

Once you close and re-open Firefox, you will be able to use the extension by right-clicking inside the username field of login forms and selecting “Login with BugMeNot” (see the image at the top of this post). The extension logs you in by grabbing a username and password from the database and entering it automatically into the form.

Not every website that requires registration is included in BugMeNot’s database, but many of the most popular destinations are. And if you encounter a registration form that BugMeNot can’t bypass, contribute to the cause by creating a phony one and entering it into the database for others to use. Enjoy your new freedom to login anonymously.

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