Professional working on an online editor

Are online PDF editors safe? Here’s When to Avoid Them

Which type of PDF editor is better, desktop or online?

The answer depends on the types of documents you are working with, the amount of power that you need, and whether you want to be able to edit PDFs offline.

Advantages of both types of PDF editors

Desktop PDF editors tend to be much more powerful because they leverage the capabilities of operating systems. They also tend to be more secure. Finally, they are internet-independent. Provided you install the software on one or more devices, you can edit PDFs offline.

With online PDF editors, you can convert and edit PDFs on any device. You do need an internet connection, though, and the PDF editing features are limited. Security might also be a concern — see below.

Are online PDF editors safe?

When you upload a file to an online PDF editor or converter, you give the platform temporary access to it. This could be an issue depending on the type and sensitivity of the documents you work with.

“If you’re just working on an assignment for college, it’s probably not a big deal,” says cybersecurity specialist Maurício Ariza

For confidential documents, software engineer Jim DeLaHunt does not consider online PDF editors or PDF converters to be safe, especially if they are free to use. “It’s a matter of whether the service provider is rewarded for providing you with the advertised service without harm to you, or if the provider is rewarded by harming you and the service is just a ruse to attract you,” he explains.

Ariza agrees. “We usually say that if you are not paying for the service with money, you are paying with data.”  

But using a paid online PDF editor doesn’t guarantee your privacy and security, either. “There are paid services where these problems can happen as well. It usually involves using data for audience profiling, which is quite profitable these days,” Ariza says. 

According to him, users of free online PDF editors also risk getting their devices infected with malware, although that is much less common. “I would say that the risk for this is lower and we would be talking about services that are really sketchy.”

With confidential docs, professionals prefer to play it safe

Most professionals who work with sensitive or confidential information — lawyers, accountants, doctors, and government employees, for example — use desktop PDF editors.

“If you’re in a practice that requires a lot of PDF editing, including redactions or in-page edits, you’re better off investing in a dedicated program that can do what you need on your computer, quickly and securely,” advises The Lawyerist, a website for law professionals.

How to check if an online PDF editor is safe

Even if you want to edit PDF files that are not work-related, it’s still a good idea to take precautions when using online PDF editors. Here’s what to find out before uploading your PDF file to an online editing service:

  1. Will they delete your file(s) after you’re done? Some services automatically delete files after 2 hours. The amount of time can vary depending on the service provider. 
  2. Will they use your data in any way? If so, how? Will they share it with third parties? If so, for what purpose? In Europe, the use of personal data is regulated by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — check if your country has its own version of these laws and if the website complies with them.
  3. What measures do they take to protect your privacy? Do they implement controls to prevent third parties from invading their system and stealing your data?

Note: While some platforms include privacy and safety information on their homepage, it’s always best to get detailed information through their terms of use and privacy policies. In some cases, you might have to contact the developer directly for more information.

Takeaways

  • Online free editors are best for non-sensitive documents that require minor corrections.
  • For confidential files, documents containing client information, and files that need advanced editing, a desktop PDF editor is better.

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