Protecting Your Privacy

With more and more aspects of our lives connected to the internet with devices such as computers, gaming systems, household assistants, home robots, TVs, tablets, smartphones and wearables, it’s important to understand the critical issue of privacy and how your personal information is used, collected and shared by businesses.

Although these devices make it easier to connect to the world around us, they can also track your personal information, including your contacts, photos, videos, location and health and financial data.

Why Privacy Matters

The data on your devices and apps can be stored indefinitely and used in both beneficial and unwelcome ways. Even seemingly innocuous information – such as your favorite restaurants or items you purchase – can be used to make inferences about your socioeconomic status, preferences and more.

  • Privacy settings on social media platforms don’t always prevent personal information from being shared beyond the intended audience and without a user’s knowledge.

  • Online shoppers must be careful by protecting their personal data and ensure they are doing business over secure networks. E-commerce is an environment ripe for cybercrime with millions of consumers’ banking information, addresses and browsing preferences and data potentially available.
  • Advances in healthcare technology, such as digital record-keeping and internet-connected medical devices, come with a risk. Medical organizations and insurance companies, collect large volumes of data, including Social Security numbers, financial information, medical history and current health status. This data can be immensely valuable to cybercriminals and so intensely personal that patients would be deeply affected if it was lost or stolen.

Many companies can monitor their users’ and customers’ personal behavior and sell the data for profit. To make informed decisions and understand the true value of their data, consumers need to understand how it is collected, used and shared.

Safeguarding Your Data

Your mobile devices – including smartphones, laptops and wearables – are always in reach wherever you go, and they share substantial information about you and your habits. Follow these basic privacy tips to help you better manage your personal information.

  • Personal info is like money: Value it. Protect it. Information about you, such as your purchase history, location, contacts list or where you shop, has value – just like money. Be thoughtful about who gets that information and how it’s collected through apps and websites.
  • Own your online presence. Set the privacy and security settings – and regularly review them – on web services and devices to your comfort level for information sharing. Each device, application or browser you use has different features to limit how and with whom you share information. (Get direct links to update settings on popular devices and online services.)
  • Share with care. Think before posting about yourself and others online. Consider what the post reveals, who might see it and how it could be perceived now and in the future.
  • Apply the golden rule online. Post only about others as you have them post about you.
  • Keep a clean device. Keep all software, operating systems (both mobile and desktop) and apps up to date to protect against data loss from infections and malware. Delete unused apps.

Advice for Organizations

Protecting your customers’ privacy is a competitive advantage. Respecting consumers’ privacy is a smart strategy for inspiring trust and enhancing reputation and growth. Below are some tips for transparency and trust:

  • If you collect it, protect it. Follow reasonable security measures to keep individuals’ personal information safe from inappropriate and unauthorized access.
  • Transparency builds trust. Be open and honest about how you collect, use and share consumers’ personal information. Think about how the consumer might expect their data to be used and design settings to protect their information by default.
  • Build trust by doing what you say you will do. Communicate clearly and concisely to the public what privacy means to your organization and the steps you take to achieve and maintain privacy.
  • Be vigilant. Conduct due diligence and maintain oversight of partners and vendors. If someone provides services on your behalf, you are also responsible for how they collect and use your consumers’ personal information.

About This Page

Content is provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Stop.Think.Connect. public awareness campaign as well as the National Cyber Security Alliance's Stay Safe Online -- both inititiatives aimed at increasing the understanding of cyberthreats and empowering the American public to be safer and more secure online.

The campaign’s main objective is to help you become more aware of growing cyber threats and arm you with the tools to protect yourself, your family and your community. For more information, visit www.dhs.gov/stopthinkconnect or staysafeonline.org.