Ten ways to protect your privacy online

Think of e-mail as sending a postcard, readable by everyone, and don’t post any photos anywhere that you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.

By , Staff writer

Deciding how much cost, effort, and time to put into trying to ensure privacy online is an individual decision. But here are a few simple steps everyone can take, according to privacy experts.

1. Always give out as little information as possible about yourself online. Don’t enter contests or answer polls that ask you to reveal information such as your street address or phone number. This information can be used by marketers later.

2. Never provide your Social Security number online unless you’re sure that you are on a safe website. Even then, try to see if there is some other way to establish your identity. (Some banks and other financial transactions require a Social Security number by law.)

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3. Never reply to “spam” e-mail (for inexpensive drugs, foreign lotteries, investment schemes, etc.). It only alerts spammers that they have reached an active e-mail address.

4. Think of e-mail as sending a postcard, not a letter. Assume that your e-mail might be read by anyone.

5. If you join a social-networking website like Facebook or use a shopping site like Amazon, learn how to use the privacy settings to make sure your information is seen only by the intended audience. Don’t accept “friend” or “follow” requests from people you don’t know or trust.

6. Make sure your passwords for social-networking and other sites are hard to guess. Passwords should be at least eight characters and contain a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.

7. Learn how to delete “cookies” from your Web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, etc.). While some cookies are needed to make sites operate properly, they can record information about you, including other sites you visit.

8. Don’t post any photos you wouldn’t want your grandmother, mother, children, employer, fellow church member, etc., to see.

9. Assume that your work e-mail and Web activity is being monitored. Employees have few online privacy rights when in the workplace.

10. Read the “terms of service” (TOS) agreement before signing up to use a website. Pay special attention to how the site will guard your privacy and whether it will track your activity.

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Full story: How we're losing our privacy online

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