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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 Can I Do To Protect My Information Online?

There are a number of steps that you can take to limit and protect the information that you share online. These include:

Use Settings and Controls. Know your options. Take the time to understand the controls or "settings" for the products and services you use. They control what information you share with others and may include important choices. For example, often the privacy settings of a web browser will allow you to limit the placement of some types of tracking cookies.

Share PII with Caution. Remember, if you give your information to people or companies, they may share it with others - including advertisers, family members, employers, or other third parties. Be wary of companies that may not protect the information you share, or may use your private information in unexpected ways. And remember: "free" on the Internet often means that you must give up your PII in exchange for using the product or service.

Use Strong Passwords. Strong and secure passwords are an important tool to protect your privacy and the security of your information online. Take password security seriously and create challenging passwords that will be difficult for others to guess. Some tips for building a strong password include:

  • Don't use your name or birthdate - be unpredictable
  • Make your password at least 10 to 12 characters long, and use a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters (like %, $, #, or @)
  • Don't use the same password for multiple accounts
  • Keep your passwords in a secure place, and don't share them with anyone - especially over the phone, in texts, or by email
https graphic Only Give Your PII to Secure Sites. If you're shopping or banking online, stick to sites that use encryption to protect your information as it travels from your computer to their server. To determine if a website is encrypted, look for https at the beginning of the web address (the "s" is for secure). Some websites use encryption only on the sign-in page, but if any part of your session is not encrypted, the entire account could be vulnerable. When shopping or banking online, look for https on every page of the site you're on, not just where you sign in.

Consider "Extra" Security Steps. Increasingly, online services such as email, social networking sites, and cloud storage providers, are offering more advanced tools to protect your passwords and the security of your account. "Two-step authentication," for example, requires a code sent in real time to your mobile phone in addition to your password to let you log in to an account or service. This makes it harder for anyone other than you to access the information in your online account. Consider using these extra security measures where they are offered.

Keep Your Web Browser and Antivirus Software Up to Date. Out-of-date web browsers and antivirus software can leave your computer vulnerable to attack by malware, which could capture sensitive data like your log-in information, passwords, or financial information. Antivirus software will prompt you to update to the latest version, and most browsers will either do the same or update automatically.

If You Suspect You Are a Victim of Identity Theft, Report It. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your PII to pretend they are you. Identity theft can allow someone to run up debts on credit cards in your name, open new credit accounts in your name, take your tax refund, or make it harder for you to find and keep employment. For more information about identity theft and how to prevent and report it, go to http://www.oag.state.md.us/idtheft/ or http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft. You may also contact the Attorney General's Identity Theft Unit by calling (410) 576-6491 or by sending an e-mail to idtheft@oag.state.md.us.


Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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