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. To read about how your information gets on the Internet and how it is used, see Your information on the Internet: What you need to know.
Follow the practical advice below to help increase your privacy online.
Think before you share personal information
Privacy policies 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. (For example, look at the bottom of this and every page on Microsoft.com.) No privacy statement? Take your business elsewhere.
Do not share more than you need to
Do not post anything online that you would not want made public.
Minimize details that identify you or your whereabouts.
Keep your account numbers, user names, and passwords secret.
Only share your primary email address or Instant Message (IM) name with people who 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.
Choose how private you want your profile or blog to be
Modify Windows Internet Explorer or website settings or options to manage who can see your online profile or photos, how people can search for you, who can make comments on what you post, and how to block unwanted access by others.
Monitor what others post
Search for your name on the Internet using at least two search engines. Search for text and images. If you find sensitive information on a website about yourself, 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.
Protect your computer
You can greatly reduce your risk of online identity theft by taking these three steps to protect your computer:
Use an Internet firewall.
Note Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP with Service Pack 2 and Service Pack 3 have a firewall already built in and automatically turned on.
Visit Microsoft Update to verify your settings and check for security updates.
Subscribe to antivirus software and keep it current. Microsoft Security Essentials is a free download for Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP. For more information, see Help protect your PC with Microsoft Security Essentials. For more information, see How to boost your malware defense and protect your PC.
Create strong passwords
Strong passwords are at least 14 characters long and include a combination of letters (both upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols. They are easy for you to remember but difficult for others to guess.
Don't share your passwords with friends.
Avoid using the same password everywhere. If someone steals it, all the information that password protects is at risk.
Save sensitive business for your home computer
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.
Protect yourself from fraud
Spot the signs of a scam
Watch for deals that sound too good to be true, phony job ads, notices that you have won a lottery, or requests to help a distant stranger transfer funds. Other clues include urgent messages ("Your account will be closed!"), misspellings, and grammatical errors.
Think before you click to visit a website or call a number in a suspicious email or phone message—both could be phony.
Be cautious with links to video clips and games, or open photos, songs, or other files—even if you know the sender. Check with the sender first.
Look for signs that a web page is safe
Before you enter sensitive data, check for evidence that:
The site uses encryption, a security measure that scrambles data as it crosses the Internet. Good indicators that a site is encrypted include a web address with https ("s" stands for secure) and a closed padlock beside it. (The lock might also be in the lower-right corner of the window.)
You are at the correct site—for example, at your bank's website, not a phony website. If you are using Internet Explorer, one sign of trustworthiness is a green address bar like the one above.
Use a phishing filter
Find a filter that warns you of suspicious websites and blocks visits to reported phishing sites. For example, try the SmartScreen Filter included in Internet Explorer.