Online Privacy

 Protect Your Privacy Online

Concerns about privacy are not new. But the computer’s ability to gather and sort vast amounts of data — and the Internet’s ability to distribute it globally — magnify concerns. Online marketers, in particular, want to know as much about you and your buying habits as possible. Companies use this information to target sales of products and services to your interests and lifestyle — delivering tailored news, information on bargain travel, the latest book on your favorite subject. That may be good news for some, but what if you don’t want your personal information shared or sold for marketing purposes?

Online PrivacyFirst and foremost, become an educated consumer. You need to know how information about you is collected, how it is used, and what you can do to limit its release. Call For Action offers this guide to help you protect your privacy so you can shop and explore online with confidence.

 The ABC’s of Online Privacy

Exciting, isn’t it? It’s great to search the Internet to learn about anything from astrophysics to zydeco, to buy anything from almanacs to zinnias. But what information about me am I revealing when I go online? Who’s looking at it and why? Do I get any benefits from it? What choices do I have about the collection and use of information online? Together the answers to these questions form the core of an organization’s privacy policy.

Privacy policies are important when visiting a Web site. Some places to look for a privacy policy include “Privacy,” or a privacy icon, the “About Us” or company information site, site maps, the index or forms where information is collected. Some companies don’t label their information practices specifically but make a statement such as “no information is being collected on this Web site.” That counts as a privacy policy.

If you can’t find a privacy policy send an e-mail or written message to the site to ask about its policy, and that it be posted on the site. If you see an “under construction” message that means it should be posted soon.

A [About Me] – What information do you collect about me and my family and is it secure?
B [Benefits] – How do you use that information and what is the benefit to me?
C [Choices] – What choices do I have about your use of information about me? Can I opt-out of any information uses and how?

Online PrivacyHow Is Information Collected?

Information is collected on the Internet with and without your knowledge.

Like to surf the Web? Web sites often monitor the pages you visit and the information you view. This data is recorded in a file called a “cookie” and stored on your own computer. When you revisit the site, it opens the cookie file to access stored information. Cookies allow Web sites to greet you by name, remember what you bought or saw and save you time re-entering information. But as Web sites gather information, they eventually can collect a complete data picture of you.

When you enter a chat room discussion, leave a message on a bulletin board, register with a commercial site, complete a survey, enter a contest, or order a product, you send information into cyberspace. In fact, the information requested may be the price you pay to enter the Web site. But every time you provide information online, you add to the body of information available about you. And this information travels in often unexpected ways. You’ll need to take preventive measures to avoid leaving a trail.

Online PrivacyWhat should I look for when shopping online?

Look for a privacy policy on every Web site that asks you for personal information.

Reputable Web sites post credible privacy policies. A privacy policy will tell you what information is collected when you visit a site and how that information is used. Sites that are most sensitive to your privacy concerns offer you a choice to share your personal information or restrict its use (opt-out).

A privacy policy should be easy to find and easy to read. Look for the word “privacy” or a privacy icon, the company information site, or the term “information practices.” If you can’t find a privacy policy, contact the company directly to ask about its policy and request that it be posted. Knowing what to look for, you will have to decide if you’re willing to shop Web sites that have no privacy policy. Click here to check out the ABC’s of Online Privacy — the three questions to ask yourself when you surf the Web.

Look for a privacy seal for added assurance that a Web site complies with credible privacy principles.

Privacy seals are branded symbols of trust on the Internet similar to the Good Housekeeping “seal of approval.” They give added assurance that a Web site is abiding by its posted privacy policy. BBBOnline and TRUSTe seal programs offer third-party verification and monitoring of information practices. BBBOnline is a subsidiary of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. TRUSTe is an independent, non-profit initiative working to build consumer trust and confidence on the Internet.

Online PrivacyWhat can I do to secure information online?

Keep personal information private unless you know who’s collecting it, why, and how it’s going to be used.

Don’t disclose your name, address, phone number, date of birth, social security number, mother’s maiden name, or account information unless you know who you’re dealing with and what they plan to do with the information. Mother’s maiden name and social security number are especially sensitive.

Use a secure browser on your computer.

Unsecured information sent over the Internet can be intercepted. To ensure that data stored in a computer cannot be read or compromised, use a secure browser that will encrypt (convert into code) or scramble information. A browser is software that allows you to navigate the Internet and view Web sites, such as Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. Most computers come with a browser already installed. If you don’t have encryption software to assure the security of your transaction, consider whether you should call or fax your order, or pay by check or money order — it depends on your preference, and the type of site you’re visiting.

Look for a security symbol before disclosing personal information.

Before giving out a credit card number or financial information online, look for a graphic on your browser that indicates the business is operating with a secure server. Usually, the symbol is a lock or key. A secure server supports encryption and protects information against third party tampering. Making purchases from a secure Web server ensures that your payment or personal information will be translated into a secret code that’s hard to crack.

Paying by credit card or charge card online offers some protection under the Fair Credit Billing Act, but don’t enter your credit or charge card information if you’re not comfortable.

Online PrivacyWhat are companies doing to maintain security online?

Companies know from numerous polls and surveys that privacy and security are important reasons consumers are reluctant to shop online. Their challenge has been to develop technology to allow the secure exchange of sensitive information in a manner that will gain your confidence and trust in online transactions.

Security measures used by most online companies involve some form of data encryption. Using this technology, information is encrypted or converted into a code that can only be unscrambled and read by an authorized person with the appropriate electronic key. Encryption increases the level of security for transmitting data online so you can more securely send financial information, such as credit card and bank account numbers.

Secure payment systems currently used by online businesses include:

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) – developed by Netscape for transmitting private documents, works by using a private key to encrypt data. Both Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer support SSL, and many Web sites use it to obtain confidential consumer information, such as credit card numbers. Web pages that require an SSL connection start with https: instead of http:.

Secure Electronic Transaction (SET) – developed by MasterCard and Visa, assures secure credit and charge card payment using highly encrypted communication between card issuers, merchants and card members. SET provides an enhanced level of security, confidentiality and transaction integrity.

Secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol (S-HTTP) – offers a method for transmitting individual messages securely, such as e-mail.

Online PrivacyHow do I know if a business is legitimate?

If you don’t know the company, check it out.

Anyone can set up shop online under almost any name. If you’re not familiar with a company, ask for a paper catalog or brochure of their merchandise or services. Also, determine the company’s refund and return policies before you place an order. Look for contact information, including an address and phone number on the site.

Check the Web address for authenticity.

Web sites are identified by their URL (uniform resource locator) which cannot be duplicated. The URL identifies the address or location of information on the Web. It also indicates the type of organization that maintains the site, for example, whether it is a non-profit organization, government agency, or commercial entity.

To make certain that companies and advertisements online are authentic, look for information on the company’s physical location, phone number and mail address.

How can I verify a web address?

If you do not find information about the company’s physical location on its website, you can check domain name registration sites such as, the WhoIs section, or These sites should provide you with the name of the individual or company who owns the website and the address and phone number as well as a contact name.