Top Ten Privacy Tips

Almost everything you do online, whether it's visiting a website or sending e-mail, leaves a trail of personal data. Some of it remains on your computer, some is transmitted to third parties. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, you can control who sees it. In the interest of protecting your privacy, we offer some tips.

E-Mail
Don't mix business and leisure. Get an e-mail address for personal use.
You have little privacy protection with company e-mail. Most businesses claim that it is their right and responsibility to monitor e-mail because it represents the company, uses company equipment and travels over the company network. You could argue the point, but getting a private e-mail address is much easier. Use your business address for company business only.

Use encryption software.
Unless you encrypt your messages--essentially scrambling the data--your e-mail is no more private than a postcard. An easy-to-use encryption program you can download for free is PGP.

Ignore spam.
Sure, junk e-mail is a nuisance, but it's easier to get rid of than the paper kind--just hit the Delete key. If you reply to spam, asking to be removed from the list, it just confirms that your address is valid. You will soon be spammed and spammed again.

Remove old e-mail from your computer.
When you delete a message, it's still on your system. To permanently remove it, open the Deleted Mail folder, highlight the message and delete it again.

Be aware that the message may still reside somewhere on your computer. A trained technician may be able to recover it. Messages may also remain on the mail server and be archived in file back-ups.

Web Surfing
Turn on the cookie alert.
A cookie is a small file sent to your web browser by a web server to record your activities on a particular website. To block the cookie, set your browser to warn you before a cookie is written to your hard drive, then decide whether to accept or reject it. Here's how:

If you use Netscape Navigator 5.0 or a later release, go to the Edit menu, choose Preferences, then click on Advanced. Now check this box: "Warn me before accepting a cookie."
If you use Internet Explorer 5.0 or a later release, go to the Tools menu, then select Internet Options. Next, click on the Security tab, then click on the Custom Level button. Scroll down the list. Under the Cookie category, check the Prompt option.

Use Anonymizers.
To prevent your activities from being tracked as you browser websites, use online tools that disguise who you are and where you come from. One reliable service we recommend is Anonymizer.com

Review sites' privacy policies.
Before you provide any information to a site, read its privacy policy. Every reputable site should post one. Look for a link on the home page. The policy should state what information is collected, how it is used, how it is protected, who has access to it, and if it is sold or shared with third parties. If no policy is available, think twice about providing personal information.

Opt-out.
Websites that collect personal data may allow you to decide whether the data can be shared with third parties, such as marketing companies, and whether you want to receive e-mail offers from them. Typically you check a box, either agreeing to this or refusing. You have no obligation to share your personal information with anyone, so opt-out if the offer holds no interest.

For more on opting-out, and an easy way to notify sites that you want to opt-out, visit the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Your Computer
Make sure your computer is secure.
If you access the Internet with a dial-up account, the chances of data theft are minimal. But if you have high-speed Internet access, such as DSL or a cable modem, watch out. With these "always on" connections, you become a more likely target for hackers. Be sure your computer has a firewall. Microsoft's XP operating system has one built-in. But if you need to install a firewall, we recommend ZoneAlarm. You can download it for free from ZoneLabs.

Clean up your history files, location bar list and cache.
As you surf the Web, your browser both records the addresses of where you have been and stores downloaded files in a cache. If you want to keep this information from prying eyes, clear the temporary Internet files, delete the history files and the drop-down list under the address or location bar. While this may seem an extreme step, if you share a computer, or use a public computer, consider doing this. Here's how:

If you use Netscape Navigator 4.0 or a later release, go to the Edit menu, choose Preferences, then click on Navigator. Now click on the Clear History and Clear Location Bar buttons.

Next, To clear the cache, double-click on Advanced. Now click on Cache. Finally, click on the Clear Memory Cache and Clear Disk Cache buttons.

If you use Internet Explorer 5.0 or a later release, under the Tools menu, select Internet Options. Now click on the General tab. Next, click on the Delete Files and Clear History buttons.