Information is the currency of 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.

Is your information at risk on the internet?

When performing everyday online activities, you might reveal personal information that can be used by others to invade your privacy. This can include sensitive information such as your IP address, your email address, your current physical location, or your home or work address. For example, online shopping transactions often require credit card information and your home address.

How your information gets on the internet

Businesses, governments, and other organizations gather data when you:

  • Set up an online account
  • Make a purchase in an online store
  • Register for a contest
  • Take part in a survey
  • Download free software
  • Surf the web
  • Use apps on your computer or your mobile device
  • Post photos or your status on social media

What happens to your information

Microsoft and other responsible businesses use your personal information to help improve your experience with their products and services—such as by helping you complete a transaction, remembering your preferences, or delivering personalized content and special offers.

Online transactions—such as signing up for a service or buying something—are linked to you by information such as a shipping address or credit card number. But in most cases, businesses generally collect data that does not identify you by name. Websites track which webpages you visit and the clicks of your mouse, but not you personally.

Personal details about you could be also online because you may have added your own information in resumes, chats, pages on social networking sites like Facebook, or comments in discussion groups or on Twitter.

Others may have published information about you. Friends may write about you or post photos of you and your family. Records of government agencies are searchable—for example, photos of your house and its value, your birth certificate, and copies of your signature. Church groups, clubs, and professional associations may reveal your full name, workplace, and donation history.

Why it matters if your information is online

The information that is available about you online is important for two reasons:

  • Companies and recruiters may use this information, which constitutes your online reputation, to gauge your suitability for a job.
  • Criminals may use data about you online to target you for phishing scams, steal your identity, and to commit other crimes. You can reduce your risk by following the advice in this article to protect your privacy online.

Online information is searchable and often permanent. Unlike data stored on paper, however, powerful internet search engines and data aggregation tools can make it easy to pull data together to build a full profile of you.

Once data is published online, it is effectively there forever and, depending on the privacy policy of the company holding the data, may ultimately be seen by anyone on the internet. Sites may archive anything you have posted in addition to data they have collected from you. Friends (or ex-friends) may give your information out, or hackers and security lapses may expose it.

Monitor what others post
  • Search for your name on the internet using popular search engines. Search for text and images. If you find sensitive information about yourself on a website, 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.
  • On Facebook and other social media, turn on the tag review option to prevent people from tagging photos that you appear in without your permission.