Woman uses laptop to check her privacy settings and manage her online privacy

What Is Online Privacy, And Why Is Online Privacy Important?

Last Updated: March 10, 2024
5 min read

Key Points About: Online Privacy

  1. Online privacy refers to processing, handling, and security of your information while you use the internet.

  2. Some common threats to online privacy include tracking and data collection, phishing attacks, and hackers.

  3. You can review the privacy statement on websites you visit, use strong passwords, and manage your privacy and security settings to better take control of your online privacy.

You expose personal data to the World Wide Web whenever you use the internet from a computer or mobile device. As an internet user, it's essential to understand what kind of information is collected about you, how it's used, and how to protect yourself with online security.

What is online privacy and security?

Whether using your credit card for online shopping, running a quick Google search, or using social media, your online behavior leaves a digital footprint. The amount of protection you have as you navigate the internet and control over the use of your information is called “online privacy.” It may also be referred to as internet privacy or digital privacy. 

One aspect of online privacy is ensuring your personal information is secure when you use email, social media, websites, apps, or other internet-based programs. For example, if you use a credit card to make an online purchase, you may want to ensure that the merchant uses data encryption to provide online security to protect you from hackers.

According to research from the Federal Trade Commission, cybersecurity threats like identity theft, online shopping scams, and other fraudulent activities are rising. This means online security and protecting personally identifiable information (PII) is more important than ever. 

Every time you use the internet, you could be exposing personal data that could be used to commit identity theft or collected by data brokers that mine internet user information and sell it or use it to produce targeted advertising to sell products. When visiting social media, websites, apps, or other internet-based programs, you may want to review the privacy policies to see how you can control the use of your personal information.

Common threats to online privacy and security

There are a few common threats to online privacy to be aware of. 

Phishing attacks

Phishing is a type of social engineering and is considered to be a cybersecurity attack. Some threats to your online privacy and security are more severe and could result in identity theft. For example, an identity thief may email you with compromised links to collect your personal information via seemingly legitimate online activity. But, when you click on the phony link and enter your personal information (like usernames, passwords, account numbers, etc.), you become the victim of a phishing attack. If you think this has happened to you, you can report it to the government, according to USA.gov.


Other internet privacy and security threats attack your computer or mobile device when you unwittingly download a program or file that gives hackers access to private information from your device. 

Data breach 

Sometimes threats are in the form of a data breach or unauthorized access to personal information. The information could then be used in fraudulent ways or sold on the dark web or people-search sites. This could give cybercriminals access to details that could lead to identity theft or other fraudulent activity.

Knowing what information is collected by services you use or sites you visit is a good idea, so check their privacy policies.

How to protect your privacy and security online

Consumers can protect their personal information on the internet in a few ways. 

Review the privacy statement

A good first step towards online privacy is staying informed. Review the online privacy statement (also called privacy notice) on any websites or platforms you use to learn what information they collect and how they'll use the information. 

Consider any applicable law

Internet privacy and security affects people worldwide. That's why there are international, national, and state data protection laws that help with digital privacy, security, and consumer protection.

Here are some examples:

  • The General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union (EU) gives individual consumers more control over their personal information and how it's used and is considered the strongest privacy law in the world, according to the European Council.
  • The Electronic Communications Privacy Act is a federal law in the United States and governs access to electronic communication, including for law enforcement, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • The California Consumer Privacy Act provides California consumers increased control of how their personal data is collected, used, and disclosed according to the State of California Department of Justice.

Check with your internet service provider

Your online privacy and security start with your internet service provider (ISP), and you can learn about the consumer protection laws in your state and country that protect internet users’ ISP accounts. Many companies and some individuals choose to increase the security of their internet service provider by using a virtual private network (VPN), which adds additional security by encrypting data (like the location, IP address, operating system, and other private data) about the internet users. You can also update your security and privacy settings to improve your internet privacy.

Other tips to protect your online privacy and security

Strong passwords

Use a unique, strong password for every account, and change passwords regularly. Consider using a password manager to create and keep track of your passwords. 

Two-factor authentication

Enable two-factor authentication on your digital accounts for added security when logging into your accounts on different devices as a second layer of verification.

Check for your personal information online

Data brokers may aggregate publicly available personal data and sell it. This can include information like your home address history, names and information of family members or roommates, work history, income information, and more.

Review your credit score and financial activity

By proactively checking your credit card statements, credit score, and credit report, you can watch for unauthorized purchases, loan applications, new credit accounts, or other fraudulent activity that could signify identity theft.

Manage your privacy settings

Check the settings of the websites, programs, and mobile applications you use to ensure the privacy and security settings meet your needs. For example, Google Chrome browser history and search activity can be used by Google Analytics to improve its online behavioral advertising and targeted advertising. But you can choose how Google services and other online programs use your information. You can generally opt out of receiving interest-based ads from Discover or its partners using this tool from Evidon.com.

Next steps

You may also be interested in

Share article

Was this article helpful?

Glad you found this useful. Could you let us know what you found helpful?
Sorry this article didn't help you. Can you give us feedback why?

Was this article helpful?

Thank you for your feedback

  • Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.