Best Practices for Maintaining Privacy Online

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Maintaining your privacy online requires a combination of the right tools and internet savvy. In this lesson, you'll learn more about ways to maintain your privacy online and knowing what is OK to share.

What is Online Privacy?

Devin has never really been involved in social media, but all of his friends keep talking about how cool it is, so he's decided to check out a couple platforms. As soon as he signs up, he starts getting friend requests from people he knows and from a few people he doesn't. One of those people messages Devin and asks him to send his mailing address because he has a great offer for some free magazines. Devin isn't sure what to do. What do you think?

Navigating the World Wide Web can be tricky. Although it provides a wealth of information, it can also be a trap where unsuspecting internet users are tricked into sharing personal details (such as Devin's address above). This information really shouldn't be given out online, especially to people you don't know.

Online privacy is the ability to properly manage the information you share about yourself online, including protecting personal information that should be kept, well, private. Some people live by the rule that if you wouldn't want to see the information shared on the nightly news, you shouldn't put it online.

Privacy online is a very real concern, since there are so many opportunities for the wrong information to get into the wrong hands. Filling out a web form on a website that seems shady, posting too many personal details on social media, or clicking links in emails that appear to be legitimate (but aren't) can all compromise your privacy.

Yes, in today's age, you are likely to leave a ''trail'' online, but you can still protect your privacy with a few key strategies.

Protecting Your Privacy

You don't want to give in to paranoia, but when you're using the internet, it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your communications and sensitive data. Here are some tips to consider to help you protect your privacy online.


Start simple by using a password for your email and other websites where you must log in that will be difficult for people to hack. A combination of letters and numbers or a phrase that is significant to you, with some random letters and numbers thrown in, will be your strongest option. Never go with something like ''password'', any combination of your name or address, or anything someone who knows you could easily guess.

Personal Details

Never share personal details, such as credit card numbers, in an email. While you may think your email conversation is just between you and someone you know on the other end, email programs can (and do) get hacked and can spill the details of your sensitive information.


Browsing the web? Consider using a private browser window. A private browser window doesn't allow tracking devices called cookies to be installed on your computer system. Even though cookies are relatively harmless, they are responsible for advertisers being able to display ads for items you've previously looked at on the internet elsewhere. In addition, consider installing a VPN. Short for Virtual Private Network, this tool enables you to browse privately and encrypts everything you do online.

Social Media Settings

Modify your privacy settings on social media. It can be tempting to fill in all the blanks when social media asks you where you live, where you went to school, and when you were born. But the more information like this that you share, the more likely it can fall into the wrong hands. Think about locking your Twitter account so that you have to approve users before they can follow you.

Shopping Online

Enjoy shopping online? You need to be careful there, too. Before you enter any credit card information or personal details like your address, be sure you're shopping from a trusted site and that a padlock icon shows up in the address bar. This ensures that your connection is private and secure.

Common Sense

Use your brain. A lot of internet privacy concerns could be averted if users would just think before oversharing. If you're going on vacation and will be away from your home for a week, don't post about it before you go. That's an open invitation for someone to pay your house a not-so-friendly visit while you're out of town.

Safe Or Unsafe?

So, how do you know what's safe to share online and what's not? Here are two lists you can consult when considering whether the information you're about to share is online-appropriate.

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