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Protecting personal information online - it pays to keep your personal information personal

Whether we’re logging into our bank accounts, submitting our credit card details, or simply subscribing to a blog, we supply a lot of personal information to the online organisations and merchants we deal with every day. The overwhelming majority are reputable and can be trusted with your details, but it’s not a perfect world. Take some simple steps to keep your personal information safe from prying eyes.

What is personal information?

Personal information is information that identifies you.

That could include:

  • full name
  • address
  • phone numbers
  • usernames and passwords
  • business details
  • date of birth
  • email address
  • bank details

Some information is information you would ordinarily treat as particularly private or confidential, such as credit card details, usernames and passwords. Other information, such as your name and email address, can still be used inappropriately, so it is important to understand how a company intends to use your information and what you are agreeing to when you provide your information.

Think twice before you give personal information online

Many online services ask for personal information in order to use their service. Before you provide personal information, think about what could be done with it.

Typically, you’ll be asked to give personal information when you’re:

SHOPPING
To verify your identity, process payment and deliver the goods.

SUBSCRIBING OR REGISTERING
A username or ID and an email address are usually necessary, and sometimes age, gender, address, photo and personal likes or dislikes. A red asterisk * usually identifies mandatory fields for registering.

COMPETITIONS, PRIZES AND REWARDS
Online competitions often ask for information that’s highly personal, such as personal interests and details about age and location. The promoters use this information to develop their marketing strategies or products.

ONLINE GAMES AND VIRTUAL WORLDS
Before play can begin, online games regularly require registration details, including personal information. If you’re uncomfortable about the amount of information being requested, check with the website owner.

Security software

Security software can prevent spyware from tracking you online, reducing your risk of identity theft. To be safe, we recommend installing anti-virus and antispyware software. Telstra has a number of security solutions for both your broadband and mobile needs. Viruses and spyware are constantly being updated, so it’s important to update your security apps too.

Is the website secure?

Never send credit card or bank account details, tax file numbers, passwords or other personal information across the internet unless you’re on a secure website. Secure websites have web addresses beginning with https:// and a ‘locked’ padlock symbol at the bottom of the screen, which show that data is being encrypted. If you’re not sure whether a website is secure, call the organisation. And when you call, don’t use phone numbers on the website or in emails you’ve received from them. Use a known phone number or one you got from a reputable source such as the White Pages® or Yellow Pages®.

Read the small print

It’s not most people’s idea of a good read, but it’s important nonetheless to read user agreements and privacy policies to see how your personal information might be used in the future. Many organisations use information for marketing and sometimes sell it to other marketers.

Don't give clues in your email address

Be careful about the information you share when setting up an email account. For example, if your name was Phillip Smith and you were born in 1964, PhillipSmith1964@hotmail.com discloses your full name and contains clues to your age, unlike PhilS3876@hotmail.com which is much harder to decipher.

What goes online, stays online

Once you’ve posted information online it can be difficult to retract and you may not have control over who sees or accesses that information. If you’re joining an online community, make sure you read and understand the privacy policies and apply any settings preferences about sharing information and images.

Choose passwords carefully

Secure

  • Use at least eight characters in the password
  • Mix letters, numbers and upper and lower case letters and include characters (*&#) if the site allows
  • Change your password often
  • Consider using a password manager to create and manage strong passwords for each different account you use online.

Risky

  • Using birth dates or the names of family and friends
  • Sharing passwords with anyone
  •  Keeping passwords on the device.

Location-based services

Smartphones have in-built features called geolocators that can give your exact location. Your whereabouts can be shared on social media or used by location services such as maps and public transport apps.

Your position can also be embedded in images you take with your phone’s camera. You might not always want the world to know where you are, so if you don’t need to share your location simply switch off the location services feature in your mobile and/or app settings.

Practical safety steps

  • Think twice before giving your personal details online
  • Read online privacy policies
  • Install security software or apps
  • Only give financial details on secure websites
  • Use a separate email account for subscribing to online services and groups
  • Don’t trust emails that ask for your personal details
  • Choose passwords carefully and change them regularly.

Helpful resources

For more information about staying safe online and getting the most from your digital experience, visit telstra.com.au/cyber-safety