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Privacy Tips

You can teach a screen saver new tricks.
If you’re concerned about others accessing your computer files when you’re not around, but don’t have time to keep turning the computer on and off, you can password protect your PC screen saver so that only you can deactivate it. To do so, go to the Control Panel (click Start, then select Settings, Control Panel) and double-click on Display. Select the Screen Saver tab and check the Password Protect box.

You can find out a lot by reading privacy policies.
Many stores now offer club discount cards that provide price discounts on certain items. Some also allow you to build up points similar to frequent flyer programs. In exchange for these and other benefits, you will be asked to share some personal information. So be sure to read the membership agreement fully, or speak to a member of the store’s customer service team if you have questions about their privacy policies.

 

It’s too easy to throw away your identity with the trash.
All it takes is a social security number for a thief to obtain credit cards, loans and other lines of credit in your name. And it’s not so tough to find. Protect yourself from identity theft by shredding credit card receipts, bills, pre-approved credit card applications and other sensitive documents before throwing them in the garbage.

 

You can get more out of your mail by reading it.
Getting more mail lately? A new law requires financial institutions to clearly communicate their privacy policies to their customers. This means your banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions are sending you their policies on privacy and information sharing. PLEASE READ THEM! Most will allow you to opt-out of their information sharing programs if you so choose.

 

You can give identity thieves the slip by holding on to your receipts.
Many merchants are taking extra precautions to protect their customers from having credit card information stolen from discarded sales receipts. They do this through a process call truncating –replacing the last several digits with asterisks (e.g., 1234 5678 9101 ****). However, not all merchants choose to truncate the number, so when you pay with a credit card, make sure you either keep your sales slip or properly destroy it.

 

Identity theft is as close as your mailbox, so pay a visit to the Post Office instead.
Each payment envelope you send from your mailbox, inbox or outbox is a sitting duck for an identity thief. We often forget how much sensitive information is contained in just one statement stub, whether it is your electricity, water or credit card bill. Don’t let it sit there for the taking. By dropping your mail in a USPS collection box, you can dramatically reduce your risk of identity theft.

 

You can increase your security by making it a monthly ritual.
Each month you receive a credit card statement with a list of charges. Each month you should carefully check each statement for charges you didn't make. Call your credit card company immediately to report any suspicious charges. For those who infrequently pay with credit, this may be the first sign that your credit card has been stolen.

 

Fido is a good name for a dog, but a bad password for you.
Hackers know common names people use. Always use a combination of numbers and words you can’t find in the dictionary. It's also a good idea to change your password on a regular basis and avoid storing it near your computer.

 

There's a reducing plan -- for your mailbox.
If you want to receive only certain catalogs, contact the organizations sending you the ones you don't want and ask to be taken off their mailing lists. Alternatively, you can remove your name from most national mailing lists by contacting the Direct Marketing Association at www.dmaconsumers.org/offmailinglist.html#how and click on Preference Services. If you're not online, you can also call the DMA at 212.790.1488. They will put you in a "delete" file that is sent to subscribing organizations several times a year.

 

You can give your Social Security number more security by not writing it on the back of a check.
Don't give it over the phone, either. Where possible, try not to use your SSN as your sole identification number. Make it difficult for thieves to steal it by crossing out the parts that contain your SSN or other identifying information when discarding pay stubs, credit card receipts and other such documents.

 

Chat rooms are for chatting, not for dating.
When possible, avoid using your actual name or primary e-mail account and instead use a second alternate online account or screen name as an "alias" when taking part in online discussions.

 

To read is to protect yourself.
Read the privacy policy of all the sites with which you do business, including your Internet service provider and other individual Web sites. You can to learn the type of identifying information, if any, they collect, how they use it, and with whom it is shared. Look for an e-mail address or phone number to contact in case you have questions about security procedures. Any site that asks for information about you should have a privacy policy statement.

 

There's no place like home for your sensitive information.
Increasing numbers of employers are monitoring employees' e-mail and Web usage in the workplace. To ensure the privacy of any sensitive information, keep it at home. And if you must discuss sensitive issues by e-mail, develop the habit of double-checking the header to make sure your message is going only to the intended recipient and not to a wider "reply to all" distribution list.

 

Strangers can be strange until you get to know them.
The age-old adage, "don't talk to strangers," has been updated in this age of online communications to "don't talk to strangers who ask for information they don't need to know." Unless it's with a trusted company or you feel comfortable with why your information is needed, it's almost never a good idea to release your personal information to someone you have never met. Increase your trust level by reading their online privacy policy statement.

 

You can keep your information private - even in public.
Ever use public computers, such as in the library or cafe? Or do you share your computer with others? As you browse, your cache stores Web sites you have visited so that your browser can store them locally instead of going to the Web site. This helps to speed up your browsing on a private computer, but can also allow your habits to be tracked on a public one. To prevent this from happening, go to the "Preferences" folder in your browser and click on "Empty Cache." Also, be sure to close the browser before leaving.

 

***** is a good name when shopping on the Internet.
When giving your credit card information online, be sure to ask whether they use encryption to scramble your data against third-party viewing and how they safeguard your stored data from online hackers. One of the easiest ways to ensure that you have a secure, encrypted connection while doing business online is to check whether the URL (Web address) begins with "https://" rather than simply "http://" before you transmit credit card information. To be certain, you may wish to install encryption software on your own computer to protect your e-mail and files from others who may disregard your personal privacy.

 

Just because someone offers you a cookie doesn't mean you have to take it.
Browser users often have the option to be notified before accepting a cookie and to accept only cookies that connect with the originating server hosting the Web site that placed the cookie - rather than third-party servers for advertisers, for example. Reputable sites should clearly inform you how they plan to use the cookies deposited on your browser. Various types of software and services are available to help you manage cookies, including those that serve as a proxy or shield between you and the sites you visit. You can opt-out from online advertising cookies by visiting the Web site of the Network Advertising Initiative. For more information on other tools, click here.

 

You can choose your callers instead of them choosing you.
If you'd like to be on the "don't call" list, send your name, address and phone number to the Telephone Preference Service, c/o Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 9014, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014. Major nationwide telemarketers participate in this service. Your local phone company may also offer some "custom calling services" like Caller ID and Call Block which can be used to limit unsolicited calls.

 

Records are for remembering more than just memories.
Most e-commerce sites present you with a summary of your transaction before you click a send or buy button. Print this out or save it as a file to refer to later if necessary.

 

Most credit cards companies give you credit when something goes wrong.
If someone steals or uses your credit card number, most credit card companies cover fraudulent charges or limit your liability resulting from unauthorized use of your card. Keep the phone numbers of the credit card companies you deal with in a safe place so you can contact them immediately if something goes wrong.

 

You can stop the e-mail before it becomes mail. Getting mail is fun.
But if you'd like to cut down on the amount of unsolicited commercial e-mail, you can contact the e-Mail Preference Service (e-MPS) offered by the Direct Marketing Association. You can register with the service by logging on to www.e-mps.org. All DMA members who wish to send unsolicited commercial e-mail must purge their e-mail prospecting lists of the individuals who have registered their e-mail address with e-MPS. The service is also available to non-DMA members.

 

The Better Business Bureau offers dated, but equally valuable privacy tips - we have included these below.

Source: http://www.bbbonline.org/understandingprivacy/toolbox/tips.asp

1) Do not reveal personal information inadvertently.

You may be "shedding" personal details, including e-mail addresses and other contact information, without even knowing it unless you properly configure your Web browser. In your browser's "Setup", "Options" or "Preferences" menus, you may wish to use a pseudonym instead of your real name, and not enter an e-mail address, nor provide other personally identifiable information that you don't wish to share.

 

When visiting a site you trust you can choose to give them your info, in forms on their site; there is no need for your browser to potentially make this information available to all comers. Also be on the lookout for system-wide "Internet defaults" programs on your computer (some examples include Window's Internet Control Panel, and MacOS's Configuration Manager, and the third-party Mac utility named Internet Config). While they are useful for various things, like keeping multiple Web browers and other Internet tools consistent in how the treat downloaded files and such, they should probably also be anonymized just like your browser itself, if they contain any fields for personal information.

 

Households with children may have an additional "security problem" - have you set clear rules for your kids, so that they know not to reveal personal information unless you OK it on a site-by-site basis.

 

2) Turn on cookie notices in your Web browser, and/or use cookie management software or infomediaries.

"Cookies" are tidbits of information that Web sites store on your computer, temporarily or more-or-less permanently.

 

In many cases cookies are useful and inocuous. They may be passwords and user IDs, so that you do not have to keep retyping them every time you load a new page at the site that issued the cookie. Other cookies however, can be used for "data mining" purposes, to track your motions through a Web site, the time you spend there, what links you click on and other details that the company wants to record, usually for marketing purposes.

 

Most cookies can only be read by the party that created them. However, some companies that manage online banner advertising are, in essence, cookie sharing rings. They can track which pages you load, which ads you click on, etc., and share this information with all of their client Web sites (who may number in the hundreds, even thousands.) Some examples of these cookie sharing rings are DoubleClick, AdCast and LinkExchange. For a demonstration of how they work, see: http://privacy.net/track/

 

Browsers allow user control over cookies, allowing you to see a notice when a site tries to write a cookie file to your hard drive, and gives you some information about it, allowing you to decide whether or not to accept it. (Be on the lookout for cookies the function of which is not apparent, which go to other sites than the one you are trying to load, or which are not temporary). It also allows you to automatically block all cookies that are being sent to third parties (or to block all cookies, entirely, but this will make some sites inoperable).

 

3) Keep a "clean" e-mail address.

When mailing to unknown parties; posting to newsgroups, mailing lists, chat rooms and other public spaces on the Net; or publishing a Web page that mentions your e-mail address, it is best to do this from a "side" account, some pseudonymous or simply alternate address, and to use your main or preferred address only on small, members-only lists and with known, trusted individuals. Addresses that are posted (even as part of message headers) in public spaces can be easily discovered by spammers (online junk mailers) and added to their list of targets.

 

If your public "throw away" address gets spammed enough to become annoying, you can simply kill it off, and start a new one. Your friends, boss, etc., will still know your "real" address. You can use a free (advertising-supported) e-mail service provider like Yahoo Mail or Hotmail for such "side" accounts.

 

It is best to use a "real" Internet service provider for your main account, and to examine their privacy policies and terms of service, as some "freemail" services may have poor privacy track records. You may find it works best to use an e-mail package that allows mulitiple user IDs and addresses (a.k.a. "personalities", "aliases") so that you do not have to switch between multiple programs to manange and use more than one e-mail address (though you may have to use a Web browser rather than an e-mail program to read your mail in your "throw away" accounts - many freemail providers do not allow POP or IMAP connections).

 

 

4) Don't reveal personal details to strangers or just-met "friends".

The speed of Internet communication is often mirrored in rapid online acquaintanceships and friendships. But it is important to realize that you don't really know who these people are or what they are like in real life. A thousand miles away, you don't have friends-of-friends or other references about this person. Be also wary of face-to-face meetings. If you and your new e-friend wish to meet in person, do it in a public place. Bringing a friend along can also be a good idea.

 

One needn't be paranoid, but one should not be an easy mark, either. Some personal information you might wish to withhold until you know someone much better would include your full name, place of employment, phone number, and street address (among more obvious things like credit card numbers, etc.) Needless to say, such information should not be put on personal home pages. (If you have a work home page, it may well have work contact information on it, but you needn't reveal this page to everyone you meet in a chat room.) For this and other reasons, many people maintain two personal home pages, a work-related one, and an "off duty" version. In the commercial sector, too, beware "fast-met friends". A common "social engineering" form of industrial espionage is to befriend someone online just long enough to get them to reveal insider information.

 

5) Realize you may be monitored at work, avoid sending highly personal e-mail to mailing lists, and keep sensitive files on your home computer.

In most US states and many if not most countries, employees have little if any privacy protection from monitoring by employers. When discussing sensitive matters in e-mail or other online media, be certain with whom you are communicating . If you replied to a mailing list post, check the headers - is your reply going to the person you think it is, or to the whole list? Also be aware that an increasing number of employers are monitoring and recording employee Web usage, as well as e-mail. This could compromise home banking passwords and other sensitive information. Keep private data and private Net usage private , at home. See this CNN/IDG article on "snoopware" (which may not be limited to your office...):
http://www.cnn.com/2001/TECH/ptech/11/07/snoopware.idg/

 

6) Beware sites that offer some sort of reward or prize in exchange for your contact information or other personal details .

There's a very high probability that they are gathering this information for direct marketing purposes. In many cases your name and address are worth much more to them because they can sell it to other marketers (who can do the same in turn...) than what you are (supposedly) getting from them. Be especially wary of sweepstakes and contests. You probably won't win, but the marketer sure will if you give them your information.

 

7) Do not reply to spammers, for any reason.

"Spam", or unsolicited bulk e-mail, is something you are probably already familiar with (and tired of). If you get a spammed advertisment, certainly don't take the sender up on whatever offer they are making, but also don't bother replying with "REMOVE" in the subject line, or whatever (probably bogus) unsubscribe instructions you've been given). This simply confirms that your address is being read by a real person, and you'll find yourself on dozens more spammers' lists in no time. If you open the message, watch your outgoing mail queue to make sure that a "return receipt" message was not generated to be sent back to the spammer automatically. (It is best to queue your mail and send manually, rather than send immediately, so that you can see what's about to go out before it's actually sent. You should also turn off your mailer's automatic honoring of return receipt requests, if any.) If you have a good Internet service provider, you may be able to forward copies of spam e-mail to the system administrators who can route a complaint to the ISP of the spammer (or if you know a lot about mail headers and DNS tools, you can probably contact these ISPs yourself to complain about the spammer.) If you are getting spammed a lot, there are a variety of filters and anti-spam services available, including:


Spam Hater ( http://www.cix.co.uk/~net-services/spam/spam_hater.htm ) for Windows users;
TAG ( http://alcor.concordia.ca/topics/email/auto/procmail/spam ) for experienced Unix users;
SpamBouncer ( http://www.spambouncer.org ) for experienced Unix users (works well with TAG);
BrightMail ( http://www.brightmail.com/ ) for ISPs;
SpamCop ( http://spamcop.net/ ) for anyone;
More information on fighting spam is available at:
Elsop's Anti-Spam Page ( http://www.elsop.com/wrc/nospam.htm );
MaximumDownforce's Info-n-Links Page( http://www.maximumdownforce.com/hotlinks.html );
Whew's Anti-Spam Campaign ( http://www.whew.com/Spammers/ ).
Many of these are difficult to use for novices, and some require Unix expertise. Others are services that deal with ISPs only, not end users.

 

8) Be conscious of Web security.

Never submit a credit card number or other highly sensitive personal information without first making sure your connection is secure (encrypted). In Netscape, look for an closed lock (Windows) or unbroken key (Mac) icon at the bottom of the browser window. In Internet Explorer, look for a closed lock icon at the bottom (Windows) or near the top (Mac) of the browser window. In any browser, look at the URL (Web address) line - a secure connection will begin "https://" intead of "http://". If you are at page that asks for such information but shows "http://" try adding the "s" yourself and hitting enter to reload the page (for Netscape or IE; in another browser, use whatever method is required by your browser to reload the page at the new URL). If you get an error message that the page or site does not exist, this probably means that the company is so clueless - and careless with your information and your money - that they don't even have Web security. Take your business elsewhere.

Your browser itself gives away information about you, if your IP address can be tied to your identity (this is most commonly true of DSL and broadband users, rather than modem users, who are a dwindling minority). For a demo of how much detail is automatically given out about your system by your browser, see: http://privacy.net/analyze/ .

 

Also be on the lookout for "spyware" - software that may be included with applications you install (games, utilities, whatever), the purpose of which is to silently spy on your online habits and other details and report it back to the company whose product you are using. One MS Windows solution for disabling spyware is the Ad-aware program (shareware, from http://www.lavasoft.de/ ), which can remove spyware from your computer; it is based on a large collaboratively maintained database of information about spyware. Linux and Mac products of this sort are likely to appear soon.

Java, Javascript and ActiveX can also be used for spyware purposes. Support for these scripting languages can be disabled in your browser's configuration options (a.k.a. preferences, settings, or properties). It is safest to surf with them turned off, and only turn them on when a site you trust and want to use requires them. If you don't know if your browser supports these languages or don't know if they are turned on you can use BrowserSpy to find out (along with a lot of other information about your Web browsing software): http://gemal.dk/browserspy/

 

Another form of spyware consists of "webbugs", which typically manifest themselves as invisible or nearly invisible image files tied to cookies and javascripts that track your Web usage. See http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=webbugs+%22web+bugs%22 for more information on webbugs. See also this webbug FAQ, http://www.nthelp.com/OEtest/web_bug_faq.htm for more details. Dealing with webbugs when they are embedded in an otherwise legitimate page is thorny, as there isn't a surefire way to distinguish between webbugs and run-of-the-mill image files. But see the Privacy Foundation's Bugnosis webbug detector ( http://www.bugnosis.org/ - Windows MSIE only). When webbugs are loaded into popup pages, the solution is to close the popups (usually a small page with an ad, though some of them are "micropages" that you can barely see. A few may even use javascript tricks to keep you from closing them. If this happens, close all other browser windows, then you should be able to close the bug window). Another tip for defeating webbugs is to reject any cookies from Doubleclick, AdCast, LinkExchange and other "ad exchange networks" (cookie sharing rings), and any other cookies that are not from the site you are currently visiting (most third-party cookies are basically webbugs). Lastly on this topic, be aware that HTML-capable e-mail programs and Usenet newsreaders make webbugs work in your e-mail and newsgroups. If your mailer or newsreader has an option to turn off cookie support, you should certainly do so. There is hardly any imaginable legitimate use for a cookie in an email or a newsgroup posting.

 

9) Be conscious of home computer security.

On the other side of the coin, your own computer may be a trouble spot for Internet security. If you have a DSL line, broadband cable modem or other connection to the Internet that is up and running 24 hours (including T1 at the office without a firewall or NAT), unlike a modem-and-phone-line connection, be sure to turn your computer off when you are not using it. Most home PCs have pitifully poor security compared to the Unix workstations that power most commercial Web sites. System crackers search for vulnerable, unattended DSL-connected home computers, and can invade them with surprising ease, rifiling through files looking for credit card numbers or other sensitive data, or even "taking over" the computer and quietly using it for their own purposes, such as lauching attacks on other computers elsewhere - attacks you could initially be blamed for. Firewall hardware and software is another option that can protect you from these kinds of attacks (available at any computer store; freeware and shareware implementations may be available at sites like http://www.shareware.com or http://www.download.com.

 

10) Examine privacy policies and seals.

When you are considering whether or not to do business with a Web site, there are other factors than a secure connection you have to consider that are equally important to Web security. Does the site provide offline contact information, including a postal address? Does the site have a prominently-posted privacy policy? If so, what does it say? (Just because they call it a "privacy policy" doesn't mean it will protect you - read it for yourself. Many are little more than disclaimers saying that you have no privacy! So read them carefully.) If the policy sounds OK to you, do you have a reason to believe it? Have you ever heard of this company? What is their reputation? And are they backing up their privacy statement with a seal program such as TRUSTe ( http://www.truste.org/ ) or BBBonline ( http://www.bbbonline.org/ )? (While imperfect, such programs hold Web sites to at least some minimal baseline standards, and may revoke, with much fanfare, the approval-seal licenses of bad-acting companies that do not keep their word.) If you see a seal, is it real? Check with the seal-issuing site to make sure the seal isn't a fake. And examine terms carefully, especially if you are subscribing to a service rather than buying a product. Look out for auto-rebilling scams and hidden fees.

 

11) Remember that YOU decide what information about yourself to reveal, when, why, and to whom.

Don't give out personally-identifiable information too easily. Just as you might think twice about giving some clerk at the mall your home address and phone number, keep in mind that simply because a site asks for or demands personal information from you does not mean you have to give it. You do have to give accurate billing information if you are buying something, of course, but if you are registering with a free site that is a little too nosy for you, there is no law (in most places) against providing them with pseudonymous information. (However, it would probably be polite to use obviously fake addresses, such as "123 No Such Street, Nowhere, DC 01010". If they are generating mailings based on this information - presumably in accordance with the terms of their privacy policy - they can probably weed such addresses out and not waste the postage on them. Definitely do NOT use someone else's real address!) However, if you are required to agree to terms of service before using the free service, be sure those terms do not include a requirement that you provide correct information, unless the penalty is simply not being allowed to use the service any more, and you're willing to pay that price if they figure out you are not providing them with your actual personally-identifiable information.

12) Use encryption!

Last but certainly not least, there are other privacy threats besides abusive marketers, nosy bosses, spammers and scammers. Some of the threats include industrial espionage, government surveillance, identity theft, disgruntled former associates, and system crackers. Relatively easy-to-use e-mail and file encryption software is available for free, such as Pretty Good Privacy (PGP, available at: http://www.pgpi.org/ ), which runs on almost all computers and even integrates seamlessly with most major e-mail software. Good encryption uses very robust secret codes, that are difficult if not impossible to crack, to protect your data. You can also use specialized services (some free, some pay) that go beyond infomediary services, including running all connections through a securely encrypted "tunnel", anonymous dialup, even anonymous Web publishing. Another type of product is SSH tunnelling (port forwarding) packages, such as FSecure SSH ( http://www.fsecure.com/products/ssh/ ), and SecureCRT ( http://www.vandyke.com/products/securecrt/ ).

Hopefully some day soon, good encryption and computer security will simply be included in all ISP services and operating systems, but for now you have to actively seek out good service providers and add-on products.

 

For more information on protecting your online privacy: