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How to protect your private information on the web

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Since last week the whole of Finland has been talking about data privacy. It’s been a hot topic both in the media and in private coffee table discussions, and was all started by the worst data leak in Finland’s history: A list of names, personal identity numbers, addresses and phone numbers of 16,000 Finnish residents were posted to the web.

To inform the public about the leak, the Finnish police published the list on its website. 60,000 worried Finns rushed simultaneously to see whether their information had been included, which caused an overload and crashed the site.

Apparently the listed data was from several sources. If it was stolen or published by accident, was it done for criminal purposes? And who was behind the leak is not known. The police believe that the leak will not have severe consequences. Whatever was the case, it did awake the Finns.

On a world scale Finland’s data leak was not major, but data privacy always needs to be taken seriously. We deal with it online almost every day, but do we pay enough attention to it?

We don’t mean to make you paranoid, but these are the questions you should at least think of before sharing your private information on the web:

  • To whom are you giving your information?
  • Do you know why they need it?
  • Do you know what they will do with it?
  • Do you know if they store it? If so, for how long?
  • Will they sell it to third parties?

You can follow these steps before you share any information to reduce the chance it might end up in wrong hands:

  • Check if the site has a visible privacy policy
  • Check what the site’s WOT rating is under the “privacy” component
  • Give only information that you absolutely must
  • Use a throwaway email address if you don’t trust the site
  • Never use the same password on unimportant sites that you use on the ones you trust and care about
  • Always keep a close eye on your mail, email, credit card and bank accounts. No matter how careful you are with sharing your information, you can never be 100% sure. Also, you might not be the weak link; in these digital times information given offline is most likely handled online also.

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