Ways consumers can safeguard personal data

July 11, 2008 4:56:11 PM PDT
Your privacy protections may disappear with a court order or subpoena, but there are steps that privacy activists suggest you take to reduce your exposure: - Read privacy policies. Although you have little control over what happens to data, you can at least know what gets collected and retained.

- Avoid identifying information in user IDs, such as a first initial and full last name. Choosing a moniker that avoids any reference to your name, job or other personal attributes can make tracking more difficult.

- Don't use the same user ID across multiple services. For example, if a user ID is attached to a message board posting that includes your full name, even if the ID itself does not contain your real name, it's now tied to your name when used elsewhere.

- Use anonymizing software such as Tor. Such systems relay data packets through many servers to help mask the numeric Internet Protocol address identifying your computer.

Privacy advocates say that concerned users also should press service providers to collect less data, retain the information for shorter periods and be more forthcoming about their data policies. Consumers also can press legislators to strengthen privacy laws.