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Privacy Reports

Enhancing Your Online Privacy and Protecting Your Personal Information

The Internet is a rich treasure trove of information and entertainment. Unfortunately, it's equally rich in traps for the unwary. Threats to your privacy (and your personal information) are just waiting for you online. You may have noticed recent news reports of various phishing scams and security breaches at various organizations. Are you doing all you can to protect your privacy and personal information online? In this report, we look at some tips and tools to help you enhance your online privacy and security.

Be Stingy With Your Information

Before sharing any personal information with a site—even if it's just an email address—make sure to find and read the privacy policy. A privacy policy should state what information the site is collecting, why they are collecting it, and what they will do with it. In particular, you want to see if your information will be shared with other parties. Don't use a site if you don't understand the privacy policy or don't like what they will do with your information. If there is no privacy policy, don't use the site at all; leave promptly.

On registration and other forms, be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the page before clicking on the submit button. This is a way to make sure that you haven't missed any opt-out or opt-in checkboxes.

For Web Surfing, Consider Using a Protective Toolbar

With the number of phishing and other potentially dangerous sites growing, there are free toolbars that can be added to various browsers to help identify questionable sites. Here are a few that have received good reviews and have acceptable privacy policies. All work with Internet Explorer and Firefox.

Netcraft Toolbar displays the hosting location and risk rating of every site visited.

Trust Watch Toolbar provides a risk report and real site indicator.

Earthlink Toolbar featuring ScamBlocker does more than just identify risky sites. It also includes pop-up blocking, spyware scan, and other privacy tools. You can use it even if you aren't an Earthlink subscriber.

The latest versions of Internet Explorer (7) and Firefox (2) include antiphising features.

Have More Than One Email Address

To reduce the amount of junk mail in your main email address, you can create and use additional email addresses for site registrations, online shopping and other uses that may generate junk email. Most Internet Service Provider (ISP) accounts allow you to create more than one email address. You can also set up your email program to check each email address and also put the email for that address in a different folder rather than in your main In Box.

Use Well-Thought-Out Usernames and Passwords

Many people use the same username and password for all their logins. The best practice is to use a different username and password for each login. Good passwords use a combination of letters and numbers.

Too many to remember? Take a modified approach. Use a unique (totally different) username/password for each account requiring financial or personal information. For registrations that require just nothing more than email address, username, and password—such as online free newspaper/magazine registrations or online games—you could use the same login (but totally different from financial accounts) for each category.

Don't Reply to or Click Links in Unsolicited Emails

There are many emails that try to get you to respond with personal information. These emails often look like they are from your bank, credit union, or someone you do business with. Never reply to these messages or click on any links in these messages no matter how legitimate they look. Don't do it, even if they appear to have part of your information already, such as an account number (this is a popular phishing technique). Always go to the website by typing in the address or through a bookmark. Another option—particularly for a financial institution—is to call using the phone number on a recent statement and check out the request.

Check for Security Indicators

When using a secure site, check for the padlock or key icon and "https" in the website address that indicate the site is secure. The Firefox browser indicates a secure site by changing the color of the address bar. The Opera browser displays a security bar that shows the padlock icon with the level of security and the name of the security certificate holder. Internet Explorer provides the padlock icon at the bottom of the window. Internet Explorer may show a message when you are about to view pages over a secure connection, unless you have told Internet Explorer not to show the message again.

Block Pop-Up Windows

Set your browser settings to block pop-up windows. You can also specify sites that can open pop-up windows.

Don't Accept Unnecessary Cookies

Set your browser settings to show you cookies. Some browsers give you more control over cookies than others. Session cookies are deleted when you close your browser. Persistent cookies are saved on your computer. Showing cookies can be annoying but protecting your privacy by rejecting third-party cookies is worth it.

Don't Allow Your Browser to Store Your Personal Information

Most browsers can store and automatically enter personal information in web forms. Browsers can also remember your usernames and passwords for sites. Your best bet is to turn off these functions, but if you need to use them, be very choosy about what you allow them to save.

Use Security Programs and Keep Them Updated

Every computer needs to have an antivirus program, antispyware program, and a software firewall. The best firewalls control both incoming and outgoing traffic. Although computers running Windows are the biggest target, Linux and Mac computers are now being targeted more frequently. Make sure that you keep your security programs updated as well as your operating system and browsers.

Choosing Useful Tools

There are many good tools—browser toolbars and add-ins, stand-alone programs—available to help you keep your personal information safe. There are also many bad tools that put your personal information at risk. How do you tell the difference? Check out reviews of the tool before you try it out. Read the privacy policy. Read the tool's description carefully including the fine print. Read the license before installing the tool — you never know what might be buried in it.

Try Using Other Browsers than Internet Explorer

The Firefox and Opera browsers have excellent security and privacy features that are in advance of those provided by Internet Explorer 6. Internet Explorer 7 has improved security and privacy features. Firefox and Opera are free and are available for Windows, MacOS, and Linux machines.

In Summary

Your online privacy and the safety of your personal information is in your hands. Following these tips can help you enhance your privacy.

For More Information

Information Edge links to sites provided by a variety of sources. We review sites for credibility and reliability, but Information Edge, of course, can't control advertising and other links on these sites. We advise ignoring pop-up ads, links to sales of products or services, and the like.