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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).

Using Social Networks & Photo-Sharing Services
Social networks and photo sharing services are great ways to connect and share with friends, family, or colleagues. However, it is important you understand what information you're sharing and with whom. Otherwise, the photo you wanted to share with only your closest friends may also be viewed by potential employers, relatives, or other unintended audiences. graphic of a bunch of people with voice bubbles above them.

Three Guiding Principles for Using Social Networks & Photo-Sharing Services:

  1. Think First. Information you share on social networks can sometimes become public without your permission, and your friends on the network may pass along information that you did not want them to share. Always be cautious about sharing anything about yourself that you would not want widely known (such as a sensitive medical condition). Assume everything that you post online is permanent, even if the post has an expiration feature. When you upload photos and post comments online, be aware of your audience. For example, your settings on a social network may allow the photos and posts you share with friends to also be viewed by your friends' friends, whom you've never met. Take advantage of social network features that allow you to share information only with the audience you choose. Also, consider the privacy interests of your friends before sharing their information with others. They may appreciate you asking before you post that picture of them! In general, think carefully before sharing something that might be made public.

  2. Know Your Choices. Social networks often come with controls or settings you can use to determine how to share your information with other people. Some social networks let you decide whether to share information just with friends or with a broader group, including the general public. Some information you share with social networks may always be public, and not subject to controls. You may share other information publicly based on the default policies, but you may be able to change your settings to limit this sharing. Sometimes you may also have the choice to override default settings and prevent certain information from being seen by all but a select few. Social networks vary widely in what information is made public and subject to controls. You should always read and review the privacy options your social networks offer so that you know your choices.

  3. Choose & Test Your Settings. Once you've reviewed the choices you have, choose your settings. Don't accept the default settings unless they represent the degree of privacy and sharing that you want. Where possible, check what information other people can see about you online. Some social networks allow you to preview what information others can see on your profile with a special tool, but you can also test this by logging out of the service and checking to see what is visible to the public. Your privacy settings may also interact with those of your network friends. For example, when you label or "tag" a friend in a posted picture, this information may become available - perhaps by default - to all of your network friends and to all of their network friends. That's why it's just as important to test your settings as it is to choose them.

Other Issues to Consider About Social Networks & Photo-Sharing Services:

Employer Access to Your Social Network Information. Maryland was the first state in the country to prohibit employers from asking for your username or password on your private social network. It is against the law in Maryland for an employer to take or threaten to take any sort of adverse action against you based on your refusal to share this information. If you keep information on your social network account private and access the account only from your home computer, personal cell phone, or other private, personal devices, your employer has no right to access the information.

In general, however, when you use employer-provided computers, telephones, or cell phones, employers that inform employees about workplace monitoring can track employee activities. This means you should think carefully before visiting your personal email account or social networking service, or conducting personal banking or other affairs, using your workplace computer.

Apps and Social Networking. Social networks often support applications, or "apps" -programs that may make your network more user-friendly or enjoyable. These might include games you can play with your friends, the ability to access and sync information from multiple devices, or permission to log into various other websites using the same username and password as on your social network.

Apps can also make it easier to tie your other online activities to your social network. Using apps generally gives app developers access to some basic account information about you, and they can collect additional information in order to personalize your experience or show you marketing. You should always examine your apps' privacy notices. Many apps will have different privacy policies from your social network, and will provide different security or protection for your personal data.

Your Friends. Apps may share your information with your friends or even all the members of your social network. Apps may also collect information about you and your friends or connections. For some apps, you may choose settings that let you use the app while limiting the information it may collect or share. However, not all apps have such settings, which is why it is important to review app privacy policies and settings before you download and use them.

You should also be aware that your friends can give their apps access to your information as well, sometimes without your knowledge or approval. If you do not want an app to access your information, you may need to disable it, which some social networks offer as an option. For all of these reasons, it's also important that you truly know the friends with whom you are connecting online.

Reporting Abuse. Social networks have different policies for addressing abusive behavior, but most services allow users to report abusive behaviors, threats, and privacy violations. Read the Terms of Service to learn more about how to report problems with online bullying or abuse.



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