Microsoft & Data Privacy Day: Put Your Best Digital Foot Forward

Jan. 28 is Data Privacy Day. Microsoft observes it by providing guidance to help consumers more safely manage their information online. While 2012 is still new, we recommend that people make a resolution to actively monitor and safeguard their online reputation.

As technology becomes more integrated into people’s lives and the number of connected devices grows, it is important to evaluate whether your online life mirrors the reputation you want others to see.

A person’s interactions online – spanning content that you create and share online and content that others post about you – are considered part of an online profile. Different people and organizations are able to see different parts of the overall picture. As you go through your day e-mailing, texting, sharing information and photos online, making purchases and more, all these activities can contribute to the opinions others form about you.

While a lot depends on who has access to the data, every piece of personal information that exists online about you – whether posted by you or by others – has the potential to impact how you are perceived by family and friends, an employer, a mortgage lender and more. Unfortunately, many of us are unaware of the cumulative portrait created by this online data.

We are releasing data from a Microsoft-commissioned survey in five countries (the U.S., Canada, Germany, Ireland and Spain) that examined peoples’ attitudes and behaviors regarding their online profiles, and how that information impacts their reputation and the reputations of others. As part of the research, we also wanted to learn how friends, family members or other people may have influenced the participant’s online profile and reputation. The study uncovered some interesting results, which are incorporated into this infographic.

· While 91 percent of people have done something to manage their overall online profile at some point, 67 percent feel in control of their online reputation, and 44 percent of adults actively think about the long-term consequences of their online activities.

· 14 percent of people believe they have been negatively impacted by the online activities of others, even unintentionally so. Of those, 21 percent believed it led to being fired from a job, 16 percent being refused health care, 16 percent being turned down for a job, and 15 percent being turned down for a mortgage.

The survey data suggests people in different parts of the world could benefit from greater familiarity with available privacy tools and more education about how the data they share online has meaningful impact on their online profiles and reputations and those of others. To help people put their best digital foot forward, we offer a few suggestions about how to better manage online activities that may affect one’s reputation.

· Stay vigilant and conduct your own “reputation report” from time to time.

o Search all variations of your name in Bing and other popular search engines, and evaluate whether the results reflect the reputation you’d like to share with the world, including current or future employers, colleagues, friends and family members. Our research found that 37 percent of adults never do this.

o If you find information about yourself that is inaccurate or less than favorable, respectfully request that the person who posted it remove it or correct an error.

· Consider separating your professional and personal profiles.

o When you are job hunting, applying to a school or looking for new insurance or a loan, remember that your image online can be a determining factor for hiring managers and application reviewers. Be sure to use different e-mail addresses, screen names, referring blogs and websites for each profile, and avoid cross-referencing personal sites.

o Fifty-seven percent of adults think about taking steps to keep their work and personal profiles private. However, 17 percent said information intended to remain private had inadvertently been made public online.

o Be judicious about adding personal information to your professional profile. Only include information appropriate in a professional context.

· Adjust your privacy settings.

o In Internet browsers, social networking sites, personal blogs and other places where you maintain personal data, use privacy settings to help manage who can see your profile or photos, how people can search for you, who can comment and how to block unwanted access. According to our research, 49 percent of adults do not use privacy settings on social networking sites.

o Take advantage of Internet Explorer 9’s tracking protection, which helps block unwanted tracking by third parties. Learn more by visiting the Tracking Protection List website. You can also use Internet Explorer’s “InPrivate” browsing mode.

o Learn about your personalized advertising choices via http://choice.live.com/privacy/

o Periodically review who has access to your content. It’s OK to remove people whom you feel no longer need access.

· Think before you share.

o Think about what you post (particularly personal photos and videos), who you share the information with, and how it reflects on your reputation. Let others know what you do and do not want shared, and ask them to remove anything you don’t want disclosed.

o Our research showed that only 38 percent of adults and 39 percent of kids actively think about the long-term impact their online activities might have on someone else’s reputation.

· Be a good digital citizen.

o Always show respect for those with whom you engage directly. It reflects on both you and them, and becomes engrained in your respective online reputations.

The more proactively you manage your information online, the more opportunities you will have to ensure your online reputation makes you proud. For additional guidance, go to www.microsoft.com/security, or read this press release on the Microsoft News Center.

Posted by Brendon Lynch
Chief Privacy Officer, Microsoft