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What Is Personally Identifiable Information, and Why Is It Important?

Where Do I Go To Learn How Companies Treat My Information?

What Can I Do To Protect My Information Online?

Cookies and Online Tracking

Using Social Networks & Photo-Sharing Services

Mobile Devices & Privacy

Additional Privacy Considerations

Online Privacy Rights under Maryland and Federal Law

This guide was created in collaboration with
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Printable version of this Guide (PDF).

What Is Personally Identifiable Information, and Why Is It Important?
As you conduct more of your daily life online, you often are asked to disclose Personally Identifiable Information (PII) - information that uniquely identifies you. PII includes information like your name, address, phone number, birth date, Social Security number, credit card and bank account numbers. Other types of information, such as your age, your religious faith, marital status,and shopping history can be combined together by marketers and other third parties to develop profiles about you. Websites you visit and apps you use may also collect information about you in the background, without you affirmatively inputting it, through the use of "persistent identifiers. " These are things like Internet "cookies" and mobile phone hardware identifiers (like device IDs), and although they may not identify you by name, they can be used to track your web surfing and to tailor which ads you are shown. Cookies can also store PII about you if you provide it. (See the section entitled "Cookies and Online Tracking" for more information. ) Bubblehead character using laptop
Online Privacy in block lettersSharing your PII with people and companies you trust can provide you with many benefits and services. Companies often need such information so that they can fulfill your requests or offer you their services. For example, you need to give a name and email address to sign up for most social networking services. And, if you order merchandise from an Internet merchant, you need to tell the company your address so it can deliver the purchase to your home.

On the other hand, if you are not careful about what PII you provide, and to which companies, it may be used in unexpected or undesirable ways. Your information could be shared without permission with other companies, resulting in unwanted marketing or intrusive advertising. Also, by sharing your PII - especially with individuals or companies that you do not know and trust - your data could be lost, stolen, or fall into the hands of fraudsters or identity thieves. This is why it's important to think before you share your PII.



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