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Online Privacy

Everyone needs privacy every once in a while. Sometimes closing the door or putting in your earbuds for a few minutes of “me time” is just what you need to do. Having privacy online can be just as important, though maybe for different reasons—but trust us, asking for a bit of privacy, even online, is very important.

Let’s break down online privacy into three essential steps:

1. Your Data

You create data every time you use the internet. From the moment you log on, data is created that catalogs your behavior, that is unique to you. Call it your “digital footprint.”

Think of your digital footprint as a tray of white paint next to your bed. Every morning, when you begin to browse, you step into the tray—and as you check social media, read the news, do some online shopping, you track paint all over. Your digital footprint is a trail of your most personal interests and behaviors.

2. Your Data In Use

Websites can and often do use your data to customize your browsing experience, prepopulating long forms with your information, and showing you results that are tailored to your search requests. More than anything, your data is sold to third parties who use your information to give you targeted ads—those that use your browsing history and internet behavior to present you with ads advertisers hope are relevant to your interests.

If this sounds intrusive to you, there’s good news. You can ask for privacy.

3. Controlling Your Data

Most websites that ask for your personal information also provide you with privacy settings where you can set restrictions on what happens with your data. Unfortunately, these settings are often hidden away in menus that require multiple clicks to find—but they’re there. You just have to dig for them.

If you can’t find a website’s privacy settings, do a quick internet search for how to find privacy settings on your favorite website. You’ll find what you’re looking for in no time. Then you’ll be able to change settings that determine what of your data gets shared publicly, what gets saved, what gets sold to marketers, and so on. It’s also important to control privacy settings for your kids, too, if they use the internet.

Don’t forget: privacy is in your hands.

Key Facts

  • From the moment you start browsing the internet, you create data. That data is called your “digital footprint.”
  • Websites use your data to customize your browsing experience. That might mean prepopulating forms with your data, or showing you tailored search results.
  • You can often tell a website that you do not want your data used, or sold to third parties, by locating the website’s “Privacy Settings” area.
  • Privacy settings can be hard to locate; if you can’t find it, use your favorite search engine to ask where to find the privacy settings for the website you are using.

Glossary

Advertising Preferences — Many websites show you advertisements relevant to your interests that are based on your browsing history. Most of those websites will let you change your preferences so that you see general ads and not ones that use your data.

Cookies — Cookies are small pieces of data that get stored on your internet browser when you visit a website. A website uses them to know when you return, to present you with targeted ads, or to return your display settings to the way they were the last time you visited that website.

Internet Protocol (IP) Address — A unique address that identifies your internet-capable device. Most websites you visit can view your IP address which helps them track your behavior on their site.

Personal Information — Your actual data. Your name, phone number, physical and email address—any data that relates to you. With your consent (and sometimes without), your personal information can be collected by a website. Personal information can be protected by managing privacy settings.

Personalization — Some websites offer personalization settings: ways you can modify the website to your liking.

Targeted Ads — Targeted ads are those that use your browsing history and internet behavior to present you with ads advertisers hope are relevant to your interests.

Terms and Conditions — These are terms or rules that a user agrees to when they visit a website, or use a website’s service. They often do not require you to sign anything. In fact, you often agree to a website’s terms and conditions just by visiting that website.

Third Parties — Third parties are companies that buy your browsing history and preference data from companies that collect them.

Online Privacy News

How to Protect Your Digital Privacy

New York Times

Here’s a guide to the few simple changes you can make to protect yourself and your information online.

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Your Technology Is Tracking You. Take These Steps For Better Online Privacy

NPR

I reached out to experts in digital security and privacy to find out what they do to protect their stuff – and what they recommend most to us regular folks.

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