Protect your privacy on the Internet

Protect your privacy on the Internet

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

First, read the website's privacy policy

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 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 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. Get more information about privacy settings in other Microsoft products.

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.

For more information, see Your information on the Internet: What you need to know.

Guard your information

Protect your computer

You can greatly reduce your risk of online identity theft by taking these three steps to protect your computer:

  1. Use an Internet firewall.
    Note Windows 8, 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.

  2. Get security updates automatically.
    Note Microsoft Update will also update your Microsoft Office programs.

  3. Subscribe to antivirus software and keep it current. Microsoft Security Essentials is a free download for Windows 7 and Windows Vista. If you run Windows 8 or Windows RT, you don’t need Microsoft Security Essentials. 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.

  1. Don't share your passwords with friends.

  2. Avoid using the same password everywhere. If someone steals it, all the information that password protects is at risk.

TipTip Learn how to create strong passwords.

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.

TipTip Internet Explorer can help erase your tracks on a public computer, leaving no trace of specific activity. For more information, see InPrivate browsing.

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.

  1. Think before you click to visit a website or call a number in a suspicious email or phone message—both could be phony.

  2. 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:

  1. 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.)

  2. 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.

Help detect potential fraud

In the United States, you are entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three major U.S. credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Get them by visiting

TipTip If you have been a victim of identity theft, find out what you can do about it.