How do you keep your personal stuff -- your financial data, your notes on how your kids are doing in school, your holiday shopping list or whatever -- away from prying eyes?
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


How to hide stuff from prying eyes

November 6, 2011

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, The Post-Standard

Microsoft and Apple must have thought they had a persuasive way to ensure privacy on personal computers. They designed their computer software so that each user could have a separate logon, thereby hiding all personal files from everyone else who uses the computer. Sign on as "Mary" and you can't see the files belonging to "John."

It was a great idea -- except almost nobody caught on. I don't know anyone who uses separate logons on their Windows PCs or Macs. Sure, there's a geek here and there who does it, and no doubt it's an attractive option for schools. But John and Jane Doe? Forget it.

That leaves our home computers and laptops with an unintentional privacy problem. How do you keep your personal stuff -- your financial data, your notes on how your kids are doing in school, your holiday shopping list or whatever -- away from prying eyes?

I have the answer. This week I'm reviewing four file-and-folder hiding programs -- one for Windows, two for Macs and one for the iPad. (I had scheduled two for Windows, but one of them kept crashing my Windows 7 PC.)

Each one has the same approach. You choose which files or folders you want to hide and click a button or a menu item to make them disappear. To show one of them, you click another option. To show all, you click a third.

It's very simple. When files or folders are hidden, they're not only invisible, they're out of the way. I hide all the extra folders on my desktop that I use only when working on projects. They're available at the click of an icon, but otherwise they're completely out of the way. All the programs I'm reporting on here worked well. Two of them are free. The you-pay-it version (for the Mac) has a few extra features that justify its price of $10.

Here are the ones I liked:

Free Hide Folder for Windows, free from cleanersoft.com. (Warning: The Windows software that crashed my PC is Hide Folders from hidefolders.org. I can't recommend it.)

Hide Folders for the Mac, free from altomac.com.

UberMask for the Mac, $9.95 from novamedia.de. It's more automated than the other two and has a much nicer interface.

Stash Free for the iPad, free from the iPad App Store. At first glance, Stash seems designed to hide images, but it has a great "Documents" section for hidden files also. And it has two levels of hiding, using two passwords. (You can get fancier versions if you pay for them. Search for "stash" on the Apps Store site.)

In all programs, hiding files and folders uses a simple method built into Windows, the Mac and the iPad. A geeky 14-year-old with a devious intent and a knowledge of operating systems probably would be able to unhide whatever you've hidden.

However, the main use of a folder-and-file hider is to keep casual snoopers from even knowing anything is hidden, the idea being that you're not going to look for what you don't know is hidden.

A secondary use is to keep important (but not necessarily private) items out of sight and therefore out of the reach of fumble-fingered family members who can't stop themselves from clicking "Delete" just to see what it does.