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Taking steps to protect your own personal data

As we can see, disclosure of personal information online may unwittingly expose individuals to a host of on- and offline dangers. However, we also cannot escape the fact that we need to give information to access online services and that information is stored about us on a daily basis across a range of electronic databases. Most of the services that require us to give personal information should have security measures in place to protect this information (and in a moment we will look at examples of corporate privacy and security statements). We should also be aware of our rights to data privacy and later in the unit we will explore how we can access and enact these rights.

The most fundamental guideline for protecting your own personal data is to only disclose personal information whenever it is absolutely required and where organizations or corporations offer clear guidelines to protect data privacy.

You should be extremely careful not to disclose personal information online in situations where there are no privacy protection guidelines (for example, posting personal information in a chat room or newsgroup). Avoid disclosing your own or others’ personal information such as email addresses, home addresses, job and company details in a public forum. Disclosing this kind of information in a public forum such as a chat room can lead to many of the above abuses of privacy as well as other problems such as solicitation for fraudulent investments, electronic harassment or stalking, and attempts to establish undesired relationships or contacts. Also, take care not to pass on others’ email addresses or details without their permission. Simply forwarding an email with others’ email addresses on it can compromise the data privacy of others and result in privacy intrusions such as unwanted messages or spam.

Regrettably, many Internet users are not sufficiently aware of the dangers associated with disclosing sensitive personal information in the online environment. To assist surfers protect their own privacy, Hong Kong's Privacy Commission Office has published a booklet entitled "Internet Surfing with Privacy in Mind - A Guide for Individual Net Users". This booklet is available from the PCO's website at www.pco.org.hk/english/publications/guide_privacy_mind_1.html