Giving Personal Information to a Website

Before giving any personal information to a website:

Review the website's privacy policy statement to learn what information is gathered or tracked, how it is used and with whom the information is shared, as well as your ability to correct the information.

Does the website allow you to "opt-in," or wait for you to tell them whether to share your personal information, or must you "opt-out," or take action to stop the sharing?

Some websites display the logo of TRUSTe, an organization that promotes the disclosure of information practices and reviews and audits its members' privacy practices for compliance.

While such an endorsement may be comforting, there is no substitute for doing your own homework when surfing the Internet.

Recognize the "red flags" including requests for your password, Social Security number and checking account number. Legitimate websites do not ask for this information.

Be alert for "billing error" scams where fraudulent website operators pose as your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or another common vendor and request that you "reconfirm" account information.

Shopping websites should not require your credit card number until you have selected and confirmed your purchases.

Finally, remember that giving information to online surveys, contests and chat rooms today can lead to unwanted e-mail — "spam"— tomorrow.

Understand that websites collect information with your knowledge, as well as without. Certain Web sites deposit a "cookie," or a text block of information, on the hard drive of your computer. When you revisit the site, that cookie will act as an identifier to let the Web site know that you are back.

Cookies may be used to tell Web site businesses and their advertisers about your preferences, such as the type of music you order online.

You may set your computer to alert you when a Web site is trying to deposit a cookie, or you may refuse to accept any cookies.

Be forewarned that the practice of depositing cookies is widespread, and if you decline cookies, you will deny yourself entry to many Web sites.

To control cookies in Netscape, go to"Edit-Preferences-Advanced." Other Internet gateways also offer ways to control cookies.