On the internet, nobody knows your name. What’s important is your email address, which becomes your username for most websites, along with the accounts and passwords associated with that username. Say your name is James Brown; a data breach revealing that name is harmless. But if it reveals your email address, [email protected], that’s more serious. Privacy tool Avast BreachGuard seeks out breaches that have exposed your email addresses, monitors them for new breaches, and actively works to opt your personal information out of the hands of certain legitimate data collectors.
Like Bitdefender Digital Identity Protection, BreachGuard also aims to educate its users about measures they can take to protect their identity and privacy. It offers detailed guides to do things like stop Google from tracking your location or stop Facebook apps from accessing your data. Pay attention; this is good advice!
You pay $39.99 per year for BreachGuard’s monitoring service. Bitdefender Digital Identity Protection lists for $79.99 per year, roughly twice as much, but it does aim to find a wide variety of personal information where BreachGuard focuses on email addresses. Abine DeleteMe actively removes your personal information from dozens of legitimate data aggregators, a process that involves intervention by human agents. This need for a paid staff explains DeleteMe’s higher price, $129 per year.
Taking a different approach, the LifeLock service offers to warn you if it detects identity theft and help remediate any such attack. LifeLock gives you help from human agents, replacement of stolen funds, and other guarantees, for anywhere from $11.99 to $34.99 per month. This protection (which is beyond the scope of our testing) is aimed more at your credit and finances than at protecting your online accounts the way BreachGuard does.
You can also find monitoring for breached email addresses as a feature in other programs. LastPass, Keeper Password Manager & Digital Vault, and a few other password utilities report on breached passwords, and then help you replace them with new, stronger passwords.
In addition, many antivirus utilities report when your personal data shows up in a data breach. MacKeeper has a particularly robust ID Theft Guard for this purpose.
Getting Started With BreachGuard
Where Bitdefender’s privacy service is strictly online, BreachGuard is an app that you install on your Windows computer. Apps for macOS, Android, and iOS are planned.
During the installation process you create an Avast account (or log into an existing account) and enter your activation code. Next, the app walks you through a series of steps to protect your privacy. To start, it scans for breaches involving the email address associated with your Avast account. You can deal with any found problems during installation or put them aside for later.
Not all appearances of your personal data on the web are illicit. Many information aggregators collect and bundle publicly available personal data. BreachGuard includes the ability to send opt-out requests to certain of these. You fill in personal data such as your full name, birthdate, and contact information, and BreachGuard generates automated opt-out requests based on this data. By observation, BreachGuard sends requests to 13 sites; DeleteMe manages almost 40.
As part of the initial onboarding, BreachGuard invites you to view and act on several of its privacy guides. You can save these for later if you wish.
That’s it. You’ve got BreachGuard installed and ready. If you took care of all problems during the onboarding process you have a clean bill of health. If not, the main window shows the steps you need to improve your privacy, along with a privacy score as a percentage. The app continues to monitor your email address, and any other addresses you’ve added.
Hands On With BreachGuard
I installed BreachGuard using my PCMag email account. During the onboarding process, it reported finding breaches related to LinkedIn, Malwarebytes, and IObit. When I clicked each to show the details, I found the breaches to be ancient, ranging from 2012 to 2015. BreachGuard offered a link to log into each site and change the password, plus a link to indicate you already fixed the problem. I clicked the latter for each, since I fixed them long ago.
A following screen described data collection companies, with a button to see what they’re collecting. I clicked, figuring to see what personal information of mine had been found, but the resulting page simply listed types of personal info such as health data, finances, and personally identifying information.
I proceeded to fill in my full name, birthdate, phone number, and physical address, then submitted the form for processing. BreachGuard reported attempting to opt out on 13 sites, slowly counting them off. Four of the attempts failed due to a “technical issue.” It suggested setting a reminder to submit those again.
At the Helpful Privacy Guides page, BreachGuard offered four distinct ways to protect my identity and data from Google: stop it from tracking what I do, prevent tracking where I go, auto-delete search and location history, and prevent Google from using my data to personalize advertising. In each case, it displayed clear, easy steps, with illustrations.
Achievement Unlocked: Main Window
After that thorough onboarding, I reached BreachGuard’s main window. A privacy level indicator appears at the center, with links below to access the Privacy Risk Monitor and Personal Info Remover components. Down the right-hand side there’s a list of available privacy guides, as well as a collection of links to privacy-related news.
Clicking Privacy Risk Monitor brought up a page showing my email address and a warning about one privacy threat I had left unhandled. I took care of that, bringing my privacy score up to 90 percent.
If you’re like me, you have multiple email addresses. You should add them all to BreachGuard; there’s no limit. Like Bitdefender Digital Identity Protection, BreachGuard sends a verification message to each email you add. Unlike Bitdefender, it seeks and displays breaches even before you verify the account. The one thing you get by verifying is that BreachGuard displays the actual breached passwords.
You might think you could misuse this feature to get someone else’s breached data. My Avast contact pointed out that anybody can go to sites like haveibeenpwned.com and check on any email address, so there’s no real worry.
Just What Is My Personal Info?
When you fill out BreachGuard’s form for removing your personal info from data collectors, you enter one phone number, one email address, and one physical address. That’s a bit of a problem, since many of us have had multiple phone numbers, addresses, and so on. Which address did the data collector collect? You have no way of knowing. DeleteMe lets you enter multiples for just about any field, even including alternate names.
My Avast contact noted that I can simply enter different information and run the removal process again, but I could find no way to do that. It turns out that having a reminder of incomplete requests on the Info Remover page suppressed the ability to add or edit personal data. Once I dismissed the reminder, I was able to edit the data, choosing a different email address, a recently-terminated phone number, and an old physical address.
Unlike DeleteMe, BreachGuard doesn’t tell you whether it found your information on those data collector sites. Naturally it can’t tell you if your opt-out request succeeded in removing that information, only whether the request was accepted. I found the process disappointing.
That’s about it for BreachGuard’s features. It does check breach data dumps for any passwords stored in your browsers, and it looks at your browsing history for sites that have been breached, but that pretty much wraps it up.
As noted, Bitdefender Digital Identity Protector takes a different approach. All it asks for is your full name, one email address, and one phone number. You must verify the email and phone using a code it sends (which means that, for now, you can’t verify a landline). It goes online and finds all it can of your personal information, including addresses, other phone numbers, and more. You go through the found items verifying the correct ones and discarding the clunkers, to fine-tune its search. It makes no attempt to opt you out of data collectors, but it seeks possible social media impersonators.
DeleteMe focuses solely on getting your personal data away from those legitimate data collectors and keeping it away from them. To accomplish this, it uses a combination of automated systems and real, live humans. It’s effective, but expensive.
Abine Blur Premium takes the position that legal and illegal collectors of data can’t find your data if you never reveal it. With Blur, you use a different “masked” email address for every site you correspond with. You can also mask credit cards, and even your phone number. Blur also builds in a password manager, active Do Not Track for your browsers, and more.
Like Abine Blur, ManyMe manages disposable email addresses to protect your identity. That’s all it does, but it has the enviable advantage of being totally free. Other approaches to privacy protection include encrypted email, active blocking of trackers on the internet, and using a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, to protect your data in transit.
Doesn’t Do a Lot for the Price
Avast BreachGuard does what it promises—it reports on data breaches containing your email addresses and tries to opt you out of legitimate data collector sites. It doesn’t protect nearly the range of personal data that Bitdefender Digital Identity Protection does. True, it costs half as much, but both products seem expensive for what they do. You may already have email address monitoring in your password manager or antivirus, and BreachGuard’s data collector opt-out system could use some bulking up.
With all the different approaches to privacy, there’s no easy way to compare products in an apples-to-apples fashion. Still, Abine Blur offers a wider range of privacy protection than most, including some features such as masked credit cards that the competition can’t match. We’ve identified it as an Editors’ Choice in the privacy field. Our other privacy Editors’ Choice, PreVeil, offers high-tech encrypted email that’s both easy to use and free.