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Last week, we discussed how the Republican-led US Senate was playing a game of “let’s figure out the one truly awful thing the voters didn’t ask for – and do it anyway“. And they came up with the bright idea of giving permission to Internet Service Providers to sell your private online usage information to third-party companies. Congress duly rubber-stamped the decision this week when they voted for it, and it now heads for President Trump’s desk for signature. Given that he likes to sign things, it’s a safe bet to assume that he will not oppose this bill 
But Verizon is not waiting for Donald to scribble his name on the bill, because they have already announced plans to install spyware on the Android smartphones of all their customers in “the coming weeks”. The move has outraged privacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and a great many ordinary Internet users, including Trump’s own supporters.
appflash
The spyware will come in the form of a useless piece of bloatware called AppFlash, which will park itself on Android home screens – and which, from the sound of things, can’t be removed. It’s made by the same people who also made Evie Launcher, and it is useless because it does absolutely nothing Google doesn’t do. So it exists purely to provide “targeted advertising” – as if Verizon wasn’t making enough money already.
AppFlash ironically actually has a “Privacy Policy”, which confirms that it will :
“collect information about your device and your use of the AppFlash services. This information includes your mobile number, device identifiers, device type and operating system, and information about the AppFlash features and services you use and your interactions with them. We also access information about the list of apps you have on your device”.
So the question remains, “what DOESN’T it want?”
But wait, it continues.
AppFlash also collects information about your device’s precise location from your device operating system as well as contact information you store on your device”.
And to twist the knife, it tells you how much they are really going to screw you.
AppFlash information may be shared within the Verizon family of companies, including companies like AOL who may use it to help provide more relevant advertising within the AppFlash experiences and in other places, including non-Verizon sites, services and devices“.
Yes, AOL, the company that spammed everyone with installation disks 20 or so years ago. I never had to buy a drinks coaster ever again. THEY are getting your online user information? Be afraid, be very afraid.
aol meme
So what can you do as a pre-emptive strike? Well in our last article, we suggested some privacy-enhancing methods such as using a VPN. Honestly, until AppFlash comes out in the flesh, it would be rather impossible to give you cast-iron assurances of what you can do that will definitely work.

But based on their hilariously named “privacy policy”, we can make a few educated assumptions. You won’t be able to stop your ISP from getting device information such as your phone number, operating system, and what apps you use (there’s nothing to my knowledge that shields that information), but there are 10 other things you can perhaps try.

Stop Using Verizon

This would be a short-term solution, as very likely other ISP’s will also “do a Verizon” eventually. But cancelling your Verizon contract with a few choice words in your cancellation letter may get their attention. Don’t count on it though.

Stop Using An Android Phone

If this isn’t a good advert for why you shouldn’t use an Android phone, I don’t know what is. Say what you want about Apple, but you don’t get things shoved on your iPhone homescreen that you don’t want. Plus iOS doesn’t block privacy-related smartphone apps.

Start Deleting

Purge your Internet usage history right now. Seriously. Delete the lot. Temporary files, cookies, the whole nine yards. Start a bonfire and consign your entire Internet history to…..well, history. Because from now on, every scrap of information is up for grabs, because everything now has a dollar value attached to it.

Stop Using “Traditional Browsers”

Abandon browsers such as Chrome and move to the Tor browser immediately. There is an Android version of the Tor Browser called Orbot. Firefox also has a privacy-related version of their browser called Firefox Focus (the Android version requires compiling, so advanced knowledge is required). A third option is the Ghostery browser. Basically use a browser which stops collecting cookies and browsing history.

Make Sure That VPN Is Switched On

As we mentioned in the last article, a VPN is essential. We recommend Tunnelbear.

Stop Using Your ISP-Issued Phone Number

Encryption apps such as Signal, Telegram, and WhatsApp now offer not only encrypted messaging, but also encrypted phone calls and video calls. Start using them instead. In a pinch, I guess Skype might also be OK, but I would prefer an app that stresses its encryption protocols. Microsoft doesn’t inspire the same confidence.

Don’t Access Sensitive Websites On Your Phone

Are you going to a fertility clinic? A STD clinic? Are you browsing gay dating profiles? Are you organizing and/or attending political rallies and engaging in activism? Then DON’T USE YOUR PHONE BROWSER. Also, try to avoid online banking on your phone, and installing medical-related apps which will log your health information. Suddenly you might find your health insurance premiums increasing.

Turn Your GPS Tracking Off

Seriously, why do you need your phone to know where you are 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? The more it tracks you around the streets, the more information that is being sold to your ISP. Maybe your GPS has you walking through the Red Light District? Would you want your ISP to know you’re frequenting hookers?

Change Your Device Identifier

This involves a little bit more work, but a cursory look at DuckDuckGo (you don’t think I would search for this in Google, do you?) shows you can use an app called Android ID Changer. But only do this if you absolutely know what you are doing, as the potential to mess up your phone can be huge. Just ask the 5 year old kid next door to do it for you.

Install An App To Spoof Your GPS Location

Number 8 was to switch your GPS off, but if you MUST leave it on, the Google Android App Store has GPS spoofing apps you can try. Since I don’t have an Android, I can’t test them, so if you test any, let us know what you think of them.
The biggest thing you should be concerned about though is hackers probing to see if AppFlash has any weaknesses and back-doors. If so, they can get all of your user information, sell it to even less reputable companies than Verizon (if such a thing is even possible), and even insert their own spyware.
So let’s hope to God Verizon hasn’t rushed this through with dollar signs in their eyes, without thinking of the downsides for the users.

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In my never-ending quest to thwart the evil forces of the National Security Agency, I am always trying out new ways to conceal who I am and what I am doing online. I am not doing anything illegal or morally questionable (unless you count David Hasselhoff music as ‘morally questionable’). I’m simply of the fierce belief that it is nobody’s business, except my own, what I do online. One method I use is to constantly look for the best virtual private networks.

A virtual private network (VPN) preserves my privacy by concealing my location. There are many reasons why you would want to conceal where you are. First, marketers and even your ISP provider like to collect this sort of user information to help compile dossiers about you which can be sold to the highest bidder. Your IP address, which identifies your location and then your computer, can also be used by hackers to break into your network.

Finally, spoofing your location enables you to get around geolocation-dependent sites such as Netflix, and in some cases, YouTube videos not available in your actual country (“Saturday Night Live” for example does not allow anyone outside the US to view their videos). Although recently Netflix and other streaming video sites, such as Hulu, can automatically detect if you are behind a proxy server and if so, block you. VPN companies used to make it a priority to get around these new restrictions, but as one VPN company told me recently “we have more important things to focus on right now, than someone not getting the new season of “Orange Is The New Black“.
But to date, a VPN still works for BBC iPlayer if you are outside the UK (at least for the moment – the BBC is always making noises about emulating Netflix and blocking non-UK viewers).
youtube
Changing and concealing your IP address is not a big deal. In fact, once the VPN software has been installed, it is a simple case of clicking a button and waiting for the VPN to connect. The VPN will then redirect your web traffic onto their servers in the country you specified, making you invisible and impossible to track. Impossible because VPN companies do not keep logs of who used their service when to visit where. So if the government and law enforcement came knocking, the VPN company would have literally nothing to give them.
Saying that, before signing up for a VPN, you should always ask them first what their policies are towards law enforcement approaches and how they deal with court orders. You should also get them to confirm they don’t keep user logs.
The one big downside of a VPN, in my opinion, is that your web connection will start to get sluggish and slow down at various points. After all, you are now at the mercy of the VPN company’s servers. They go slow, you go slow. The generally accepted method is to either a) turn if off then back on again, or b) choose a VPN server closer to where you live (the one furthest away are the slowest). So since I am in Germany, I tend to stick to servers in France, the Netherlands, and sometimes Spain.
So which ones are the best? We took several on a trial run into the laboratory to see what works and what doesn’t.
beaker
Before we start, an important point should be noted. Do NOT use free VPN services. VPN companies are like any other company – they need to make a profit somewhere. So if you are not paying them, that means selling your user information to third-party companies – which defeats the whole purpose of using a VPN in the first place. As you know, I like free stuff, but sometimes you have to pay for something to get the full benefit of it.
So we will only be looking at paid options, which will run you to no more than a few dollars per month. One less Starbucks coffee a month in exchange for your privacy. That’s a good deal.

The 5 Best Virtual Private Networks

Tunnelbear

tunnelbear vpn
Up until recently (when I discovered ProtonVPN – more on that in a moment), Tunnelbear was my all-time favourite VPN (I am a beta tester for Tunnelbear by way of full disclosure). It was literally a case of “install it then click the switch”. Even the village idiot couldn’t mess this up. You just choose your country, click the “connect” switch, and you’re off to the races.
There is also a built-in feature which will temporarily block your Internet connection if you lose your Tunnelbear connection for a moment (thereby preventing any accidental revealing of your location).
tunnelbear
Tunnelbear has come a very long way over the years. It used to be a teak wood radio-type machine with blue sound-waves. Now they have designed a stylish map (see above), where you can see the bear tunnelling to different countries.
You get a very limited amount of data for free (which can be slightly supplemented if you tweet about them and tag them in the tweet). But that limited data is used up very quickly, forcing you to upgrade if you want to jump onto BBC iPlayer. Unlimited data can be had for a very reasonable $5 per month, with no minimum commitment.
Tunnelbear is available for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. They also provide browser extensions for Chrome and Opera. The team is also extremely friendly and helpful.

ProtonVPN

protonvpn
ProtonVPN is a new arrival to the VPN industry, but the kicker is that it is only available to paid users of Protonmail, which is encrypted email based in Switzerland. If you are paying the few bucks a month to unlock more Protonmail features (and also help keep them in business), then look upon ProtonVPN as a fringe membership benefit. And it is well worth it. I am so blown away that Tunnelbear and I might be getting divorced.
ProtonVPN has a cool feature called Secure Core. This is where it protects you against the possibility that one of their servers may be “compromised” in a high-risk country (such as the US). It protects you by redirecting the traffic from that compromised server to ANOTHER server in ANOTHER country. So essentially you are being rerouted through two proxy servers simultaneously – without any noticeable extra speed lag. Choose a pair of countries closest to you to increase the VPN speed. I tried France–>Sweden and there was no difference in speed whatsoever. Extremely impressive.
If you want to use ProtonVPN, sign up for Protonmail and then upgrade the email account to a paid one (which roughly comes to almost the same price as Tunnelbear). Then sign into ProtonVPN with your email credentials.
Currently there is only a Windows version of ProtonVPN but technically you can get it to work on Mac and Linux with a bit of finagling.

ExpressVPN

expressvpn
I have heard many good things about ExpressVPN, and the fact they have servers in places like Costa Rica, Panama, and the Bahamas makes them unique. Not many VPN’s have diverse locations like this – VPN’s normally stick to the usual places – North America, Europe, Asia, and maybe Australia. But ExpressVPN goes to a few other places in between, 145 servers in a total of 94 countries (Mongolia and Bangladesh!). You can see the total list by going here and scrolling down.
ExpressVPN is priced slightly more expensive than Tunnelbear and ProtonVPN, with their monthly fee topping $12.95 if you go month-to-month. If you commit to 6 months and pay up-front, that monthly fee drops to $9.99, and if you commit to one year, one month is $8.32. Still way too expensive. But considering the extra locations on offer, some people may feel the extra cost is worth it. Payments can even be made by Bitcoin if you are so inclined.

NordVPN

nordvpn
NordVPN claims to have “double-data encryption”, which is allegedly “the tightest security in the industry“. Quite a bold statement to make, given their competition. They have more servers than ExpressVPN but are not as many countries. 908 servers around the world in 57 countries. As they say on their website “we cover every continent except Antarctica. But only because penguins just don’t get the Internet“.
They also make it very clear on their site that they keep no logs, and they have what they call an “automatic kill switch”, which is similar to what Tunnelbear has (blocking your Internet connection if you lose your VPN connection first). One other interesting feature is that they claim to welcome file sharers. Some VPN’s, such as Tunnelbear, discourages using their VPN for things like uTorrent, making it clear their software is not designed for that, but NordVPN goes in the other direction and lays out the welcome mat.
NordVPN currently has a 2 year deal which, if paid up-front, lowers your monthly fee to $3.29, which is the best of the bunch here. Otherwise the one year plan is $5.75 a month, and the commitment-phobic crowd would have to pay an eye-watering $11.95 per month for going month-to-month.

VyprVPN

vyprvpn
VyprVPN claims to be the “world’s most powerful VPN” and with NordVPN’s “tightest security in the industry“, you have a pair of VPN companies making rather bold audacious statements.
According to their website, VyprVPN has 200,000+ IP addresses on 700+ servers in 70 countries. They claim their Chameleon software (available in their Premium package) can bypass Chinese Government internet restrictions, as well as government restrictions in Russia, India, Turkey, Iran, and Syria. That alone may close the deal for many people who are in these places and need something a bit more robust to get around government censorship.
They also have their own DNS service called VyprDNS, which comes included with the VPN. DNS services are used by your ISP to log the websites you visit, and in the process, the government can censor the ones they don’t want you to see by rerouting you to error pages. By rerouting your web traffic through VyprVPN, your web activity can be unfiltered and unrestricted.
There are two plans you can choose from – the basic plan and the Premium plan. The basic plan gets you the VPN service, unlimited usage, and 3 simultaneous connections. If you commit to one year, it is $5 per month, and $9.95 per month if billed monthly. The Premium package gives you the VPN service, unlimited usage, 5 simultaneous connections, the Chameleon technology, and access to something called VyprVPN Cloud.

Conclusion

Some of you are probably thinking that all this VPN business is total overkill, the old “I’ve got nothing to hide” routine. But the more information companies can compile on you, the more spam you will receive, and the more your life may be negatively affected. If you are logged visiting health websites, your health insurance company may hike up your premiums for example, and you may start to see explicit and objectionable material on your monitor screen, if a site like Facebook misinterprets something you have visited online. If young children are on your computer, this would not be a very good scenario to see happen.
Do you use any of the 5 virtual private networks listed here? Or would you recommend another one? Give us your recommendations in the comments below.


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In the past, I have discussed the need for using a virtual private network (VPN) to guard your privacy while browsing. With so many websites and Internet Service Providers now tracking your online whereabouts and browsing habits, a VPN is more essential than ever. But the question you are probably asking yourself is, “how difficult is it to install a VPN?“. The answer is not difficult in the slightest.
Since most of your browsing is likely going to be on your smartphone or tablet, I will today focus on those. Plus since I am an iOS and Tunnelbear user, I will focus on the iPhone and iPad.
But the process is probably not much different for the Android, and other VPN’s. If you learn how to do Tunnelbear, you can pretty much set up any VPN service.

A Quick Reminder – What Is a Virtual Private Network?

tunnelbear
Every computer has what is called an Internet Protocol (IP) address. It is basically the digital equivalent of a human fingerprint or your home address.
Every time you visit a website, your IP address is logged. This is why downloading torrents is so dangerous. Not only is it illegal, but you can easily be tracked when your IP address is connected to the illegal download.
A Virtual Private Network adds an extra layer of privacy when you visit a website. When you type in the website name, your IP is re-routed to the VPN’s servers, which then pass onto the website you want to go to. In doing so, if anyone attempted to trace you back, they would only get as far as the VPN company – who don’t keep logs of who visited where and when.

How To Install a VPN On Your iOS Device With Tunnelbear

I have tried many VPN’s in the past, including ProtonVPN and Opera VPN. But the main reason why I keep coming back to Tunnelbear is simple. It works perfectly and is very simple to set up and use. Oh and it’s very cheap. To me, those are the most important requirements.
So let’s download and install Tunnelbear on our iOS device. Then you will see there is nothing to it.

Download Tunnelbear From The iOS Store

tunnelbear
Go to the iOS Store, either on your device or at this link, and download Tunnelbear. The app itself is free, and you get a limited amount of monthly bandwidth free. But to make serious use of it, you will need a paid account which is $5 per month.

Open It Up & Make An Account


Now open it up and you’ll see the “new account” screen. Fill in the details, and agree to the terms and conditions. You will be sent an email to confirm your email address.
When all that is done, log in. If you intend paying for your Tunnelbear service, you will then be prompted for your credit card or Paypal details.

Agree To The Installation Of The Necessary Configurations


Now that we have got all the boring stuff out of the way like account setup and payment details, time to get back to the more interesting stuff.
Tunnelbear now needs to make some changes to your phone. No need to worry, it isn’t going to plant any spyware or anything. It just needs to add a configuration profile to your settings so it will work properly.
If you delete Tunnelbear later, this profile will automatically be deleted too (and that’s easy to check – I’ll show you how later).
So as you can see from the screenshot above, click “I’m Ready“. Then you will see this screen. No prizes for guessing which option you need to choose.

As soon as you tap “Allow“, then it is done. No extensive setup or waiting required!

Get a Brief Guide On How Tunnelbear Works

Now you will get the main interface, and when you start it for the first time, it will show you briefly how it works. With the emphasis on “briefly” as you can see.

Have you memorised that long difficult tutorial? Then click “Got It” to come out of it. The screen will then light up, and you will see your nice shiny new colourful toy.
It suddenly makes you want to travel, doesn’t it?

Check The Configuration Profile


OK, hang on sailor, before you dive right into your private browsing, I just wanted to show you the configuration profile. You should check to make sure this is here as it is needed for Tunnelbear (or for any VPN) to work.
Knowing where it is also makes it easy to make sure that it is properly uninstalled, if that day should ever come.
Go to Settings–>General–>VPN. Tap on VPN and if it is installed properly, it should show you the above screen. If not, then you haven’t done it properly, and you need to start again.
If you choose to add more than one VPN service to your device, this is where they will all be listed. Obviously you can only switch on one VPN at a time.

Turn Off The Bear Growling


Yes, you read that right. For some reason, Tunnelbear likes to have its bear icon growling all the time. To avoid giving your grandmother a heart attack, you should switch it off. Besides, it’s totally unnecessary.

OK, Time To Finally Switch It On!

So where would you like to be when visiting your next website? I fancy topping up my tan, so I chose Italy.

Either choose the country at the bottom of the screen, then tap the toggle at the top. Or the fastest method is to simply tap your finger on the country, and confirm when it asks you.
Congratulations, you are now hiding behind Tunnelbear’s Italian server. Have some ice-cream and visit some embarrassing websites.

Some Other VPN’s To Try

opera vpn logo
I gave five VPN’s a rundown here, but I have to also mention Opera VPN which has surprised me for how pleasant it is to use. Plus it’s free! If you use the Opera browser, the VPN is installed by default.
A word of caution about that though. Virtual Private Networks are businesses. They have bills to pay, such as server costs. If they are not charging you, how are they making their money? So I wouldn’t be so quick to jump on the “Free” bandwagon. VPN’s like “Hola” have developed a bad reputation in this regard.
But if you are merely looking at Facebook, or some harmless website, using Opera VPN quickly won’t hurt.

Conclusion

Yes it really is that easy to install a VPN. There’s nothing more to do, so choose the VPN service you want to use and install it. Otherwise you are just giving websites and your ISP a free pass to log your IP address.
Which VPN service do you prefer to use on your mobile devices, and why?


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How To Mirror Your iPhone Screen (Or iPad) On Your Windows PC

AirPlay allows you to mirror your iPhone screen (or iPad screen) on your Mac or Apple TV. However, what if you have a Windows PC? You can still use AirPlay with the help of a free Windows app called LonelyScreen.

LonelyScreen is an easy-to-use AirPlay receiver you install on your PC. You don’t need to install anything on your iPhone or iPad. LonelyScreen uses AirPlay to communicate with your device and allows you to view your iPhone’s screen contents on a bigger screen, including movies and music.
Today we’ll show you how to set up LonelyScreen and use it to mirror your iPhone screen on your Windows PC. We’ll look at mirroring your iPhone screen in iOS 10 and mirroring an iPad screen in iOS 11.

Download & Install LonelyScreen

To begin, download LonelyScreen and install it on your Windows computer.
If the “User Account Control” (UAC) dialog box displays while you’re installing LonelyScreen, click “Yes” to continue. You may not see the “User Account Control” dialog box, depending on your settings. We don’t recommend disabling UAC entirely, however.
Download LonelyScreen
If you’re running Windows Firewall, you might get a notification when you install LonelyScreen indicating Windows Firewall has blocked some features. Choose the types of networks you want to allow LonelyScreen to communicate on. Public networks are not recommended because they are not very secure.
Allow access in firewall for LonelyScreen
LonelyScreen runs automatically once installed. When you see the above Windows Security Alert dialog box, you will also see the LonelyScreen main window with a notification about your firewall blocking LonelyScreen. Click “Fix It (Administrator)“.
LonelyScreen is blocked by your Windows firewall

Change The Server Name

Once LonelyScreen is running and you’ve unblocked it in your firewall, if necessary, the main screen displays. By default, the “Server Name” is “LonelyScreen” This name will display on your iOS device as an AirPlay receiver in the screen mirroring feature.
To change the “Server Name“, click on the name in the box and type a new name. Then, click “Save“.
Change the Server Name in LonelyScreen

Mirror Your iPhone Screen To Your PC in iOS 10

Now, you’ll mirror your iPhone screen to your PC. To do this, LonelyScreen must be running and connected to the same WiFi network as your iPhone. You can minimize LonelyScreen, but don’t exit the program.
Swipe up from the bottom of your iPhone to access the Control Center. Then, tap “AirPlay Mirroring“.
Tap AirPlay in iOS 10
Your Windows PC displays on the “AirPlay Mirroring” dialog box that displays. It’s labeled as an Apple TV device, but don’t worry. It will still work.
Tap on your PC’s name on the dialog box.
Tap PC name for mirroring in iOS 10
You’re returned to the Control Center. The name you assigned to the LonelyScreen AirPlay Receiver on your PC now displays on the “AirPlay Mirroring” button on the Control Center. Swipe down to close the Control Center.
PC name displayed in iOS 10 Control Center
While you’re mirroring your iPhone screen, the status bar at the top of screen turns blue.
Blue bar at top of iOS device's screen
Whatever you do on your iPhone displays in the LonelyScreen AirPlay Receiver window. You can enlarge the LonelyScreen window to make your iPhone’s screen larger on your PC’s screen.
iPhone mirrored on Windows PC

Stop Mirroring Your iOS 10 Device’s Screen To Your PC

To turn off AirPlay mirroring on your iPhone in iOS 10, open the Control Center and tap the button with your PC’s name on it. Then, tap “Turn Off AirPlay Mirroring“.
You can also stop mirroring your iPhone from your PC. To do this, click the gear icon in the upper-right corner of the LonelyScreen window and select “Exit LonelyScreen“.
Turn off AirPlay Mirroring in iOS 10

Mirror Your iPhone Screen (Or iPad) To Your PC in iOS 11

In iOS 11, swipe up from the bottom of the screen and tap “Screen Mirroring” on the Control Center. We’re using an iPad as an example this time.
Tap Screen Mirroring in iOS 11
On the “Screen Mirroring” dialog box, you’ll see the name you entered as the “Server Name” in LonelyScreen. Tap on that name. Then, tap anywhere off the “Screen Mirroring” dialog box, or press the Home button, to return to the Control Center.
Tap the LonelyScreen Server Name in iOS 11
The name you assigned to the LonelyScreen AirPlay Receiver on your PC now displays on the “Screen Mirroring” button. Tap the Home button, or any empty space, to close the Control Center.
Tap Server Name button in iOS 11 Control Center
Whatever you do on your iOS 11 device displays in the LonelyScreen AirPlay Receiver window. You can enlarge the LonelyScreen window to make your iOS 11 device’s screen larger on your PC’s screen.
iOS 11 device's screen mirrored on Windows PC

Stop Mirroring Your iPhone Screen (Or iPad) To Your PC In iOS 11

To turn off AirPlay mirroring on your iOS 11 device, open the Control Center and tap the button with your PC’s name on it. Then, tap “Stop Mirroring“. You’re returned to the Control Center.
You can also stop mirroring your iOS 11 device from your PC. To do this, click the gear icon in the upper-right corner of the LonelyScreen window and select “Exit LonelyScreen“.
Stop mirroring iOS 11 device's screen on Windows PC
Have you found another way to mirror your iOS device’s screen to your Windows PC? What have you used screen mirroring for? Let us know in the comments.
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Last week, I shared with you how to use Airdrop on a Mac or iOS device to effortlessly send files back and forth. But not everyone has a Mac or iOS device, so for those who use Windows or Linux, the best option is to compress file sizes and send them that way.
Today we are going to look at how to compress a music file, an image file, and a video file.  Mainly we’ll be looking at changing the format, using third-party zipping tools, and in one case, using an online compression tool.

A Word Of Warning Before We Start


I should point out that you are not going to see drastic changes in the file sizes. Some files simply can’t be reduced much beyond what they are already are. However, there are some changes and tweaks you can make which can make all the difference as you will see.
Just don’t expect any black magic that sees a 5GB movie turn into a 5MB file!

How To Compress File Sizes For Images

Images are the toughest to compress, because most images (especially ones downloaded from the Internet), are already compressed. If you have a JPG file, then you can pretty much forget about reducing the file size much further. However, if you have a PNG image or a TIFF image, then there is much room for improvement.
Let’s say I want to reduce the size of this Captain America movie magazine cover.
Captain America
Right now, the file is clocking in at 5.6MB. But there is a way to get that size right down.
If you have Photoshop or Adobe Elements, then use that. However, if you don’t have it, then the free GIMP can also do the job for you. Since GIMP is the easiest by far, I will use that.
So open GIMP, then go to File–>Open and open the image file.
gimp
Now go to File–>Export As.
gimp
In the “Name” box at the top, change the file ending to JPG (or GIF is another possible file format).

It will then give you a slider to choose the quality.

This is where you have to experiment. The lower you go with the slider, the lower the size of the image. However, this also means the quality of the image will also be lower.
So give it a few tries at different Quality settings and see which one works for you. I settled for the middle and it got the image down from 5.6MB to just under 300KB!
What’s more, I don’t see any difference in the image quality whatsoever.

If you don’t want to use GIMP, you can use a really cool online optimizer for PNG images called TinyPNG, which works really well. Despite its name, it also now supports JPG files.

How To Compress File Sizes For Music


With MP3 on the way out, the trend these days is for people to convert their music collection to AIFF or FLAC. This results in a tremendous boost in audio quality, but the downside to that is a tremendous boost in file sizes too.
Not everyone needs or wants AIFF or FLAC files. So if you have files which you want to reduce the size of, there are some methods you could try out. Obviously, make a copy of the MP3 file first. That way, if it mucks up, you still have your Britney Spears song.
However, bear in mind that MP3 files are already compressed. If you compress them even further, you are going to end up with lower sounding quality. If you have .wav or .aiff, or you really don’t mind a lower quality MP3, then read on.
Open the free Audacity editor and open your music file in it.

Go to File–>Export Audio.

You will be prompted for where you want the file to go on your PC. Then if you look underneath, you will see more options.

Drop down the Quality menu. Depending on whether you bought the music file or ripped it off a CD, it may be either “Insane” or “Extreme“. Medium is the quality you would hear on the radio with “Standard” just slightly up from that.
Again, it’s just a case of experimenting. Do one for “Standard” and one for “Medium”, then see which one sounds better. I did “Medium“, heard a slight lowering in quality, but nothing that disturbed me. In the process, I got the file from 6.8MB to 3.5MB.
Note that to make a MP3 in Audacity, you will need a file called lame_enc.dll. To download it for free, go here.

How To Compress File Sizes For Video


Compression of video is variable. On the one hand, you may get an acceptable result. But on the other hand, it may turn out to be worse than someone filming a cinema movie with a camcorder.
Plus, if you have downloaded video from the Internet, it will be compressed already.
Someone in the comments may dispute me on this, but the file format guaranteed to be the smallest is MP4. I have seen AVI file sizes cut in half and MKV file sizes cut up to five times in half by MP4. But if you already have the file in MP4 format, you are not going to get it any smaller in size, unfortunately.
The best desktop apps to convert a video file to MP4 are Handbrake and Freemake. Simply add your video file to one of those free programs and convert to MP4. There will be the occasional time when the MP4 file is slightly bigger than the original file. But that happens extremely rarely.

Then if you want to send the video to someone, I recommend using WeTransfer. It’s lightning fast and very reliable.

Conclusion

There are many reasons why you would want to decrease file size. Whether it’s lack of storage space on a hard drive, difficulty sending someone a large file, or faster copying onto a USB stick, smaller files are always handy.
Let us know in the comments if you know of a better compression method.