What is Online Privacy?

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Have you used a grocery store card or savings card today? Have you used a key word to search for something on the Internet? If so, then your data is probably being used by someone for tracking or marketing purposes.

Many recent news headlines have focused on privacy and how companies, especially web browsers and social media providers, are using the information they gather. The government has even gotten involved, with the Federal Trade Commission working on new, tighter restrictions to regulate what companies can and cannot collect and use. Although progress is being made on a do-not-track tool, advocacy groups have voiced opinions ranging from praise to criticism. Some believe that the FTC recommendations could stifle the efficiency and innovation that consumers want from the Internet and cite concerns over the economic impact the rules could cause. Others believe that even stricter action needs to be taken as quickly as possible. The disagreement means that enforceable guidelines could take a while to become final.

In the meantime, there are some steps that you can take as this journey evolves for both consumers and businesses alike. Over time, the general perception of what might be acceptable has changed. Just a decade ago, it was somewhat unsettling to post a personal picture on the Internet. Now it's very common. Still, most consumers have three main concerns: disclosure or misuse of personal information, identity theft, and intrusion of privacy. Ultimately, the key is to decide how much you and your family are willing to share. Then, make informed choices about how your information is accessed and used.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • If you are concerned about how your information will be used, always review the Privacy Policy Statements for the website you are visiting.
  • Most social media websites allow you to control your security settings. Be sure to customize these options so that you decide who can see your personal information and posts.
  • Pay attention to cookies. Have you ever noticed that some of the ads you see online seem to be targeted to you? That's because they probably are. A cookie is information that is saved by your web browser and used by companies that collect, store and share information about your online activities. They can also be used to customize your browser experience. This can be very beneficial or questionable, depending on your point of view. For example, first-party cookies are placed on the site when you visit to make your experience more efficient. Than help sites remember the items in your shopping cart, your high game scores, your preferences (like the weather in your home town), or remember your log-in name. Third-party cookies are placed by someone other than the site you are visiting. These may include an advertising company that delivers the ads you see. If you read an article about a specific topic, that company may note your interest and add that to a profile. Later, you'll likely see a coupon or advertisement that relates to the article you read. Different browsers use different cookies, so you may want to consider using the browser that suits your preferences best. To check the settings, use the 'Help' tab or check in the 'Tools' tabs for options or privacy. This may allow you to change your settings to block, delete or control cookies. You can also consider software from a trusted source that can control what cookies are stored and deleted on your computer.
  • Keep your browser updated. An out-of-date browser leaves you vulnerable to malware that can collect sensitive data.
  • Think about a Do-Not-Track feature for your browser. Some browsers and third-party applications offer a plug-in to tell websites that you don't want to be tracked. Still, be aware that there is no guarantee that companies will honor your request.
  • Clear your memory cache after browsing.
  • Consider whether or not you really need to 'sign in' on a website. When you set-up an account and sign-in to browse or make a purchase, that website can track your actions, including your address, what you buy, what you've viewed, and more. When you do choose this option, be sure to use a strong password.