Protecting your identity online

Protecting your personal information
Online services are learning more and more about us from our personal information and the data they collect from us online.

Our personal information is any information that can be used to identify us online. It is used with our permission by many social media services and businesses as we connect with friends or buy things online. However, this is not always the case and some personal information can be misused by criminals or used inappropriately by marketers.

Online businesses and marketers collect a wide range of data about what we’re buying online, the pages we like or follow on social media sites, the media channels we use, the celebrities, movies and music we like, our education level and our friends on social media — the list doesn’t stop there! 

The information that is collected about us can be used to ensure we are given recommendations that we like, but it can also be used for fraud and identity theft.

What is my personal information?

Your personal information may include your:

  • full name
  • address
  • phone numbers
  • school
  • date of birth
  • email address
  • usernames and passwords
  • bank details

How to protect your personal information

If you want to manage how online services can find out about you, here are some ways you can protect your personal information.

Set strong passwords

Select passwords carefully and don’t share them we anyone. Security experts now recommend that you use a ‘pass phrase’ rather than a password. It’s also a good idea to use different passwords for all your online accounts. Read more about how to set strong passwords.

Delete cookies

Cookies are small text files storing information about your browsing activity, allowing websites to recognise you and save your settings. There are different types of cookies, such as 'session cookies' that last for one browsing session, and 'persistent cookies' that remain on your device after you close your browser. Although there are other ways you can be tracked online, deleting your cookies will limit some access.

To delete cookies, go to the settings within your browser and look for a section that allows you to ‘manage cookies’.

Log out of social media sites and email while you browse the web

Another simple strategy is to log out of your social media sites and email while you are doing other things online. That means actually logging out, not just closing the tab. This won't stop you from being tracked online, but it will make it harder for these services to link your behaviour with your name or details of your previous browsing history and social media footprint.

Use private browsing or ‘incognito’ mode

Most browsers give you an option to browse the web privately or use ‘incognito’ mode. This means that the history of any sites you visit and any cookies from sites you go to won’t be stored. 

Bonus tip — ever noticed how prices seem to go up on flights and hotels the second time you visit a site? This is because the site uses cookies to set the pricing. If you use private browsing or ‘incognito’ mode companies won’t be able to use their algorithms to artificially inflate prices.

Avoid using social media accounts to sign in

If you can avoid using your social media accounts to sign into other apps or accounts this will reduce the information the new app or account has access to. When you use your social media account to sign into other apps or online accounts you are often agreeing that this new account is allowed to have access to all the information you share in your primary account.

Change your smartphone settings

Smartphones work differently to computers, which makes it a little easier to control access to your online data. On an iPhone you can go to Settings > Privacy and scroll down to Advertising. Turn ‘Limit ad tracking’ to On. For an Android phone, go to the Google settings app and tap the ads link and select ‘Opt out of interest-based ads’. Although this may not limit the amount of ads you see, it will make them less targeted — which may or may not suit you.

Give the least amount of personal information as possible 

When signing up for things or registering an account, if the information is mandatory, usually the category will have an asterisk. The categories without an asterisk can be left blank. Don’t pass on your personal information unnecessarily.

Do a digital check-up

The big social media sites that we trust with our information offer privacy controls. So make sure you use them. Every once in a while, check your settings and see if you’re OK with how your data is being used or how much information you’re sharing with potential advertisers. If you’re not happy, change it up! For more info about privacy settings see the eSafety Guide.


Updated April 2021