PracticePeople In PracticeProtecting online privacy

Protecting online privacy

Opportunities for data mining of private information by businesses, government and individuals have increased exponentially with the growth of the internet, creating concern in many sectors.

Along with the increased use of the internet as a medium of exchange for goods and services comes the need to find the correct balance between the appropriate use of information for business purposes and real privacy protection for individuals. But there are ten key ways in which internet users can protect their personal privacy.

1) Be cautious about giving personal information. Do not disclose your information such as your address, phone number or e-mail address, unless you know WHO is collecting the information, WHY they are collecting it, and HOW they will use it.

2) Use a secure internet browser. Your browser is used to navigate the internet and should comply with industry security standards using a technology like secure sockets layer encryption. The SSL technology encrypts or scrambles your internet transaction information, thereby ensuring the security of your transaction. Most computers come with a browser already installed. You should check to see that it incorporates SSL technology. You can also download more secure browser versions from the internet at no cost.

3) Make sure the merchant site is secure and review its privacy policy. Look at the merchant’s Web site address, referred to as the uniform resource locator, or ‘URL,’ to see whether the site is secure. A secure URL address begins with ‘https://,’ where the ‘s’ refers to the fact that the site is secure. In addition, review the security disclosures of the sites you visit, along with their privacy policies regarding the collection and use of your personal information. Some disclosures are easier to locate than others. Look at the bottom of the site’s ‘home page,’ on the transaction page, or in the ‘About’ or ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section of a site. If you cannot locate these disclosures, or the site doesn’t allow you to opt out of having your personal information gathered for marketing or other purposes, consider moving to another site. Use digital signatures to help authenticate the identity of senders and recipients on the net.

4) Pay by credit or charge card. In some countries, if you pay for online purchases with a credit or charge card, your transaction may be protected by additional laws or regulations. Some card issuers offer online shopping guarantees that ensure you will not be held responsible for unauthorised online charges, and others may offer additional warranty, return and/or purchase protection.

5) Beware of ‘Trojan Horse’ programs. Be careful when downloading programs particularly from an unknown source. Avoid programs carrying harmful code inside what appears to be benign programs or data – these can gather your personal information such as passwords or banking information that exists on public and private computers. Known as ‘Trojan horses,’ these programs are designed to sneak through firewalls designed to protect you. If you suspect a Trojan horse has hit your computer, remember they are NOT viruses. This means anti-virus software will not protect you against them nor will it stop the programs from gathering your private information. You should download a detection program to find Trojan horses and eliminate or disable them.

6) Never give your passwords to anyone online, including your Internet Service Provider. Be original when you create a password. The safest type of password includes unusual combinations of numbers and upper- and lower-case alpha characters, in addition to symbols. Avoid using your name, telephone number, birth date.

7) Keep records of online transactions and check your credit card statements. Always keep a copy of each purchase order and a confirmation number for the transaction. This could be useful if you need to contact the merchant to resolve delivery and billing problems, as well as process returns of your purchases. Check credit card statements to verify purchases made online – confirm the correct amount was billed – and to ensure no unauthorised charges were made. Contact your card issuer if you find incorrect or unauthorised charges. Many issuers will remove the charge in question until it is resolved with the merchant. Also contact the merchant directly if you have any question about a charge for one of your purchases. Report suspected fraudulent use of your credit card to your card issuer.

8) Monitor the use of ‘cookies’ by a site. A site may want to place a cookie onto your computer to track your behaviour. Cookies are small pieces of code that can also keep track of passwords and user IDs when you sign onto a site. However, be aware that cookies can also track your site navigation even after you leave a site – this helps them to create a user profile of your online behaviour. You can configure your browser to notify you when a site wants to place a cookie onto your computer, giving you the option to decline it.

9) Do not allow children to use the internet without supervision. Children are particularly vulnerable when it comes to giving out personal information.

10) Look for sites that have been independently tested and verified by a third party to ensure it has met certain principles and criteria covering acceptable privacy protection, security controls, disclosure of business practices and procedures, and integrity of transactions. Consider going to another site if you do not find evidence of this independent review. If you believe your privacy has been violated by a website, we recommend you record the circumstances giving rise to the incident, the dates and the times when actions and reactions occurred by yourself and the e-merchant involved, and report your findings to the Data Protection Authority in the UK.

  • Based on a meeting of the English ICA and representatives of the global accounting profession in Paris this year

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