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Information is the currency of the internet. Your privacy on the internet depends on your ability to control both the amount of personal information that you provide and who has access to that information.

Is your information at risk on the internet?

When performing everyday online activities, you might reveal personal information that can be used by others to invade your privacy. This can include sensitive information such as your IP address, your email address, your current physical location, or your home or work address. For example, online shopping transactions often require credit card information and your home address.

How your information gets on the internet

Businesses, governments, and other organizations gather data when you:

  • Set up an online account

  • Make a purchase in an online store

  • Register for a contest

  • Take part in a survey

  • Download free software

  • Surf the web

  • Use apps on your computer or your mobile device

  • Post photos or your status on social media

What happens to your information

Microsoft and other responsible businesses use your personal information to help improve your experience with their products and services—such as by helping you complete a transaction, remembering your preferences, or delivering personalized content and special offers.

Online transactions—such as signing up for a service or buying something—are linked to you by information such as a shipping address or credit card number. But in most cases, businesses generally collect data that does not identify you by name. Websites track which webpages you visit and the clicks of your mouse, but not you personally.

Personal details about you could be also online because you may have added your own information in resumes, chats, pages on social networking sites like Facebook, or comments in discussion groups or on Twitter.

Others may have published information about you. Friends may write about you or post photos of you and your family. Records of government agencies are searchable—for example, photos of your house and its value, your birth certificate, and copies of your signature. Church groups, clubs, and professional associations may reveal your full name, workplace, and donation history.

Why it matters if your information is online

The information that is available about you online is important for two reasons:

  • Companies and recruiters may use this information, which constitutes your online reputation, to gauge your suitability for a job.

  • Criminals may use data about you online to target you for phishing scams, steal your identity, and to commit other crimes. You can reduce your risk by following the advice in this article to protect your privacy online.

Online information is searchable and often permanent. Unlike data stored on paper, however, powerful internet search engines and data aggregation tools can make it easy to pull data together to build a full profile of you.

Once data is published online, it is effectively there forever and, depending on the privacy policy of the company holding the data, may ultimately be seen by anyone on the internet. Sites may archive anything you have posted in addition to data they have collected from you. Friends (or ex-friends) may give your information out, or hackers and security lapses may expose it.

Tips for sharing information online

Privacy policies—which are commonly outlined in a website’s privacy statement—should clearly explain what data the website gathers about you, how it is used, shared, and secured, and how you can edit or delete it. The website’s privacy statement should be readily available for you to review. For example, a link to the Microsoft Privacy Statement appears at the bottom of this and every page on No privacy statement? Take your business elsewhere.

  • Don’t post anything online that you would not want made public.

  • Minimize details that identify you or your whereabouts. Sharing details about an event you’re attending might seem harmless, but you’re actually letting people know where you are and that you’re not at home.

  • Keep your account numbers, user names, and passwords secret.

  • Only share your primary email address or Instant Message (IM) name with people you know or with reputable organizations. Avoid listing your address or name on internet directories and job-posting sites.

  • Enter only required information—often marked with an asterisk (*)—on registration and other forms.

  • Check app settings, especially on your phone. Be careful about allowing apps to access your location information, your photos, the camera, or the microphone.

Be mindful when adding contacts or friends on social networks. If possible, verify with the person directly if the account is authentic. If you are unsure you are adding the right person, try to limit the information that person can view on your profile.

Review your website settings and preferences to manage who can see your online profile or photos, how people can search for you, who can view your posts and make comments, and how to block unwanted access by others. Be sure to review the privacy settings for your favorite social networks to ensure you’re not sharing more than you intend to.

Monitor what others post

  • Search for your name on the internet using popular search engines. Search for text and images. If you find sensitive information about yourself on a website, look for contact information on the website and send a request to have your information removed.

  • Regularly review what others write about you on blogs and social networking websites. Ask friends not to post photos of you or your family without your permission. If you feel uncomfortable with material such as information or photos that are posted on others' websites, ask for it to be removed.

  • On Facebook and other social media, turn on the tag review option to prevent people from tagging photos that you appear in without your permission.

Guard your information

Keeping your computer secure helps you avoid malware and direct hacking attempts designed to steal your personal information. For info about how to reduce your online risk, see Keep your computer secure at home and Keep your computer secure at work.

Avoid paying bills, banking, and shopping on a public computer, or on any device (such as a laptop or mobile phone) over a public wireless network.

If you’re not using your own device to browse the internet, use Microsoft Edge and open only InPrivate tabs or windows. When you use InPrivate tabs or windows, your browsing data (like your history, temporary internet files, and cookies) isn't saved on the PC once you're done. However, you should still be careful not to type critical passwords on a shared computer.

If you're browsing the internet using a shared device (like an airport kiosk or a friend’s laptop), here are two important things you can do to protect your data:

  • If you're using Microsoft Edge, turn on InPrivate Browsing (or use similar functionality in whichever browser you're using, such as Incognito mode in Google Chrome or Private Browsing in Mozilla Firefox).

  • When you're finished browsing on the shared computer, be sure to close all browser windows before stepping away from the device.

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