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Privacy: Protect yourself online

Would you tell a complete stranger where you went last night, what you did and with whom? …Probably not!

But you could be letting complete strangers (…or colleagues, tutors or bosses…) find out this information if you post it on publicly available sites or don't alter the privacy settings on social networking sites.

When a website or social network is asking you to provide personal information, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you know who has access to your personal information?
  • Do you know how your information will be used?
  • Are you happy with this?

Protect your privacy and prevent information about yourself and your lifestyle from being discovered by people who you'd rather didn't see it…

Check settings and security

  • Before you disclose any personal information, always make sure that you are using a secure site. A secure web site will display a padlock icon in the bottom right hand corner of your web browser.
  • Only ever submit your credit card or bank account details to a secure web site of an organisation considered to be trustworthy.
  • Check the privacy statement of the site you're using to see what you're signing up and agreeing to (e.g. will they protect your details; do they take ownership of the information you put up there; do they enforce their privacy statement?)

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Be aware of who can benefit from your personal information

Nothing is for free! By registering on web sites and social networks you are providing organisations and companies with valuable personal information.  

Are you aware of what the web site operators may do with your personal information? Check their privacy statements to find out!

Web site operators make money through advertising - the more users they have the more advertisers they attract. 

  • Your details may be sold on to external companies - you should be given the opportunity to opt in / opt out of agreeing to let your details be passed on to other companies when you register.
  • Advertisers want to know about you, your interests and brand loyalties in order to target you with advertising.
  • Your interests and purchases may be tracked and this information passed on to your friends - an increasingly popular new form of marketing!

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Protect your identity

  • Use social networking sites’ privacy settings to determine who can view your profile and contact information
  • Consider setting up a free email account specifically for use on social networking sites, rather than your main email account
  • Take care in choosing a screen name: don't use your real name, email address or other personally identifiable information and only share your screen name with people you trust
  • Do not believe everything you read – if people or financial opportunities offered seem too good to be true, they probably aren't!
  • Take care in responding to requests for information about yourself

… and remember, it's not just your privacy you need to protect but also that of your friends and family if you have published information about, pictures of, or references to, them.

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Be aware of cookies

Be aware of cookies (these are files which web sites use to store information about you between sessions).

They are usually used innocuously  - for example search engine companies use them - however they can be used to build up a profile of your interests and activities for targeting advertising at you or with a view to fraud. You can set your browser to warn you when a cookie is installed and Microsoft Internet Explorer allows you to block cookies

And also be aware that search engines log your IP address, the search query, the date and time and use a cookie to log the computer where the request has been made – your searches aren't anonymous!

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Be careful what you say and show!

Be careful what you say or show about yourself – don't post details which you might find embarrassing later or don't want family members,  work colleagues, lecturers or your employer / a future employer to see.

Do not show inappropriate pictures of yourself. Or better yet, do not show any pictures to the general public.

...and remember, once information has been posted online it can become almost impossible to remove because of archiving and file sharing. 

Even if you deactivate your social networking account, the information may still be held in the system and be accessible.

  • Did you know …

    …that just because your personal web site, blog or profile isn't linked to, it may not be hidden from Google? Your site or profile may show up in web search results.

    Did you know ...

    …Universities, employers and potential employers are looking at sites such as Facebook?