About online privacy
Many of the handy tools and applications we rely on to go about our business online are, as we browse, automatically sharing our information with others - and not in ways that are always in our best interests.
Don't part with your data without knowing what you are giving away to whom, how and why.
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How to protect your personal information
In terms of online security, divulging your age, birthday, employer, school or home address might not be up there with disclosing your username and password. But these kinds of personal details, as well as records of your browsing habits, are more open to abuse by online criminals, bullies and spammers (including companies you don't want to hear from) than you might think.
You may end up giving away more information than you want. Make sure you:
- Telling your web browser how much of your online activity and data to share and who with.
- Don't leave the security and privacy settings on your online accounts too low.
- Avoid using public Wi-Fi without protection
- Avoid sharing too much information about yourself on social media.
Secure your browser
Modern browsers can remember your passwords, autofill forms for you and take care of the preferences and settings you use on your favourite sites. But the information your browser quietly stores as you go about your business - cookies, browsing history and the rest of it - are also a potential goldmine for advertisers, spammers and hackers who want to steal your identity and commit fraud.
The easiest way to keep your information and activities to yourself is to adjust the 'private browsing' options in your browser (how to use these features in Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari) to remove cookies, history and temporary internet files and other information each time you quit your browser.
Cookies are small text files a website places on your computer (i.e. stores in your browser) but they can also threaten your privacy.
While cookies can't 'infect' your machine, they can store information about you and be used to track your movements across multiple sites (typically third-party cookies that a website drops on your machine while you’re visiting other sites).
If you disable cookies altogether, you are likely to suffer some side effects. A more practical approach is to set up the following rules:
- Disable access by third-party cookies.
- Delete cookies when you quit your browser.
- If these blanket approaches to cookies aren't suitable for you, you can always make exceptions for individual sites and/or alter your settings accordingly.
Having unwanted windows pop up while you are browsing can be very intrusive, and worse if the pop-up is linking to a malicious website.
Here’s how your browser can help you deal with them:
- Most modern browsers, such as Firefox, Internet Explorer and Chrome will block pop-ups for you – either by default or after a small adjustment to your settings.
- You might need to enable pop-ups to use some websites or to get access to all their features, and you can enable these through your browser on a site-by-site basis.
How to use secure Wi-Fi hotspots
Here are some tips for improving your security and privacy when using untrusted networks:
- One of the best ways to secure connections over a network is to use a virtual private network (VPN) which will ensure that all of the traffic you send and receive goes down a secure, encrypted tunnel
- Every time you log in to a website, make sure that your connection is encrypted. If it is, the URL in your browser’s address bar will begin https (instead of http). You also need to make sure that the connection stays encrypted for all of your online session.
- Once you are done, 'forget' networks by removing them from your network settings in your laptop or mobile device.
Social media encourages us to broadcast rather than target our information. You may feel you are among friends, but your connections are bound to include much more loose and casual acquaintances than you would genuinely class as your mates in the real world.
To be suitably selective about what you share and who with:
- Encrypt your entire session. Many sites give you the option of doing this by enabling Secure Browsing in the Security settings.
- Learn how security and privacy works on the sites you use and set it at the level you are comfortable with.
- Be careful not to give out your date of birth, national insurance number, mother's maiden name, home address, previous address, employer, birthplace or school details.
- Be careful of random 'friends' or followers you don’t actually know, especially messages asking to join your network. If a criminal can become your friend, they can abuse the trust that other members of your network place in you to target your friends.
- Think twice about posting anything in haste or anger. News travels fast on the Internet, and once posted, it can be shared and copied in seconds, so it may be too late to undo the damage by the time you try to delete it.
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What to do if you experience online harassment
Stalking and harassment have always existed, but the Internet has made it easier. Persistent and frequent unwanted contact from another individual is likely to cause discomfort and annoyance, and if taken to the extreme, severe distress and mental trauma.
Most social networking sites have a means of reporting such issues. How to report abuse on:
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