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How to protect your personal data

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In the latest issue of Stylist, we looked at how our personal details are increasingly available online. With companies recording every move you make (from Googling holiday resorts to your shopping habits) to create a ‘personal profile’, it takes more than changing your Facebook settings to stop your details from being missued both on and offline.

At the smaller end of the scale are websites that hoover up your data for promotional purposes - leaving you with an inbox full of spam and endless cold calls on your mobile. The more serious spyware, viruses and hackers out there could collect enough of your personal information to commit online fraud or identity theft.

Here are ten ways you can keep your personal details private:

1. STORE

A spokesperson at the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office, an independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest) advises that you “store any documents carrying your personal details, such as your passport, driving licence, bank statements and utility bills in a safe place”.

2. SHRED

Shred or destroy personal items you are throwing away, such as bills, receipts or bank statements, that show your name, address or other personal details.

3. SEND SAFELY

If you have to post personal documents, ask the post office for advice on the most secure method.

4. CHANGE PASSWORDS

Use different passwords and PINs for different accounts and take extra care when using public computers to access your personal information.

5. DON'T SHARE

Always think about who you are giving your information to. Be cautious about providing any personal details to unsolicited callers by phone, fax, post, email or in person, unless you are sure they person is who they say they are. If you are suspicious, ring the organisation back on an advertised number or visit their website.

6. STOP SPYWARE

“Buy a good anti-virus, firewall and anti-spam software package to protect your computer against viruses and any spyware software which can be used to obtain personal details.” says our expert.

7. PROTECT YOUR TEXTS

An app called TigerText allows text-message senders to set a time limit from one minute to 30 days after which the text disappears from the company’s servers on which it is stored and therefore from the senders’ and recipients’ phones.

8. DESTROY DATA

Researchers at the University of Washington are developing a technology called Vanish that makes electronic data ‘self-destruct’ after a specified period of time. Instead of relying on Google, Facebook or Hotmail to delete the date on their servers, Vanish does the job.

9. GO OFFSHORE

Some companies, such as Connectinprivate.com, offer ‘anonymous and non-traceable offshore browsing’ for £5 a month. It’s done via a virtual private network, or VPN, which connects to the internet on your behalf so web services think you’re located in Canada, for example, rather than London. The VPN knows where you are, but in keeping with Canadian law, keeps no log of your activity.

10. UPDATE YOUR BROWSER

Microsoft plans to increase privacy options in the upcoming version of its Web browser Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), including the ability to prevent tracking by third-party websites.

Picture credit: Rex Features

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