How To Protect Your Privacy Online

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The Internet is an invaluable tool that provides a wealth of information on virtually any topic imaginable. Not only is it a place for people to discover and learn about a multitude of topics, but it is also provides ways to connect with family, friends, and even strangers from around the world.

Unfortunately, this sharing of information can become a problem, particularly when other people use someone's private information with criminal intent or when private information is stolen. In the hands of hackers, scam artists, and other criminals, private personal information can be used to cause physical, financial, emotional, and even legal harm. Anyone who is active online needs to understand the importance of maintaining their privacy online.

Personal Information That Should be Protected

Personal information, such as a person's address, Social Security number, banking and credit card information, place of employment, and date of birth, can be used by criminals to falsely assume their victims' identities. Once a criminal has committed identity theft they can use the falsely assumed identity to commit digital crimes, or to their own personal advantage by using the false identity to pay for things like health care or shopping sprees.

In other cases, criminals may use private information to stalk or harass victims, or to make certain information about the victim or their family available for the world to see.

Rules for Protecting Your Information Online

People can protect themselves by taking three important steps:

  • Limiting the amount of information that they share online
  • Being mindful of their online behavior
  • Securing their computers

Social networks and blogs are examples of places where people tend to over-share. When on these sites, realize that anything you share may be viewed by anyone else anywhere in the world. So be careful when sharing any personally identifiable information such as a place of employment, a phone number, or an address.

Also, while many sites provide some control over who can see information by adjusting privacy settings, remember that anyone who is able to view your information may intentionally or inadvertently reshare that information publicly.

How to use Social Networks and Email Safely

Social media websites and blogs aren't the only places where people may give out too much information. Scammers often send emails or set up fake websites in order to trick people into providing private information such as financial account login credentials, credit card numbers, banking information, and Social Security numbers.

To protect yourself, never open emails when you do not recognize the sender. When opening emails from recognized companies, it is important to confirm that the inquiry is an authentic one before providing any identifying or financial information. This can be done by calling the company's customer service staff directly or by going to the company's official website and contacting customer service there. When going to a company's website never click on a link in an email. Instead, if you've visited the site before, type the URL directly into the web browser address bar, and if you haven't visited the site before, use a search engine to locate it.

Links in emails may be set up to take the victim to a fake site that looks like the original but is actually a fraud. Another way to protect yourself is to avoid entering private information on any website that is not secure. A secure website is indicated by the presence of https at the start of the Web address. The s indicates that the site is secure.

Securing Your Computer and Private Accounts

Passwords are crucial when it comes to securing private information. When creating passwords, make them a complex combination of numbers, letters, and symbols. Ideally, a password should be something that is easy to remember, yet not easy for others to guess. To simplify the creation of fresh passwords, a person may use a number or single letter to represent a word. For each computer that a person uses, and for each website that requires a password, it is important to use a different password.

Computers should be secured from the threat of viruses and other types of malware that can infect a computer and gather private information. Simple steps, such as using anti-virus and anti-malware software, should be taken. Performing regular software updates for anti-virus programs as well as the computer's operating system will help keep the computer up to date and protected against the latest threats.

Additional Resources

To learn more about staying safe online take a look at these following resources. This collection of resources includes the best information on the web and comes from the most authoritative sources.

Keeping Your Personal Information Secure Online

This guide from the Federal Trade Commission provides guidelines for securing your personal information both online and offline, as well as special-case instructions for social security number protection, and securing personal devices. Other resources from the FTC that you may be interested in include this guide to Protecting Your Child's Privacy Online and Stopping Unsolicited Mail, Phone Calls, and Email.

Protect Your Privacy Online, a website that creates and organizes "timely, needed government information and services", offers an extensive guide to identity theft. This guide covers the full spectrum of ID theft topics include:

  • What is ID theft and how does it happen?
  • How to prevent ID theft.
  • How to report ID theft.
  • Tax-related impacts of ID theft.

Internet Privacy

This short list of tips from the North Carolina Department of Justice will help you use Internet services including email, web browsing, chat rooms, social networks, and more without compromising the security of your personal information.

Online Privacy & Safety Tips (PDF)

The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) Safety Net Project aims to address privacy issues at the intersection of technology and partner abuse. While the organization has a relatively narrow focus, the tips on this list will help protect anyone who is active on the web.

Privacy Protection Tips - Special Tips for Computer Use

The Consumer Affairs Department in Ulster County New York has pulled together this list that includes a broad range of consumer protection tips covering things as diverse of blocking caller ID, using discount programs at supermarkets, and managing the use of cookies when browsing the web.

Protecting Privacy on the Internet

Did you know that mistakes made in the past mean that many major websites are subject to regular audits to ensure user information is kept safe? Read more about this topic at Bloomberg Business.

Surveillance Self-Defense

Surveillance Self-Defense is a project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation - the leading non-profit organization dedicated to protecting civil liberties online. This website includes a wealth of tips, tutorials, and tools to help you protect your online communications from digital snooping.

To give you an idea of what you'll find at this site, start with these resources:

How to Protect Yourself Online

Trading stocks and bonds is an area of particular interest for online criminals. In response to this thread, the Securities and Exchange Commission has published this list of tips that are specifically geared towards helping you keep your online financial information protected.

FCC Guide: How to Protect Yourself Online

As the organization that governs and polices public communication, the Federal Communications Commission is uniquely positioned to give advice on how to best protect yourself when dealing with digital communication. Read this article to learn about protecting yourself from spam and scams online.

Protect Your Privacy

TRUSTe is an organization that helps consumers identify legitimate businesses who have implemented adequate data privacy management policies. Check out this article to learn about browser, website, email, and mobile device privacy best-practices from one of the most recognizable names in the digital data privacy industry.

Fifteen Tips for Protecting Your Privacy Online

This list of tips is easy to digest and provides some easy-to-implement rules for securing your privacy when browsing the web.

Ten Ways to Protect Your Privacy Online

There are a few tips in this list that you won't see many other places, such as the recommendation to use an alias when using social networks and to untag yourself in photos others post to social networks. Why would you want to do this? Read this article to learn why these might be good ideas.

Twelve Quick Privacy Tips for Parents (PDF)

Keeping your kids safe online is a worry shared by every parent and extended family member. How can you keep your kids safe online? This guide from the Office of the Privacy Commissiouner of Canada will help you tackle the task.

Safety & Privacy Tips

Not sure if you should post something on the web? This list of six questions will help you quickly identify content that would be better staying offline.

Protecting Your Privacy

This list of privacy tips was developed by the Office of the Chief Information Officer at Ohio State University and is intended for students. However, whether you're a student or not, there's at least a tip or two on this list that will help keep you safe online.

University of Rochester IT Department: Security

Keeping students safe online is something every college and university must think about. The University of Rochester has been proactive and pulled together a number of resources to help educate students about safety topics such as using anti-virus software, creating strong passwords, safe downloading, avoiding phishing scams, and much more.


The Internet is a wonderful resource, and anyone using a computer can take advantage of all that it has to offer. It is important that computer users acknowledge the risks associated with sharing private information and make smart choices about what they post online. In addition, it is equally important that people use caution when entering information in a form on a website, and only do so after ensuring that they are visiting a legitimate website over a secure (https) connection.

The attempts of hackers and scam artists to invade and steal personal information are ever-evolving and require vigilance on the part of anyone who surfs online.

Jon Penland

About Jon Penland

Jon has worked in many capacities in the high tech world, including engineering and development. He's written many articles for, including expert reviews of web hosts, programming resource guides, and even front-end development tutorials. He lives in Georgia with his wife and five children.


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