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Protecting Your Privacy in Online Classrooms

May 18, 2010 Ben Pfeiffer, Columnist | 0 Comments

It’s important to build and foster a sense of community in any online classroom. But it’s also important not to get too comfortable. When you’re working online, you’re vulnerable to scammers who are looking for information to exploit. Here are a few ways you can protect your privacy when you’re doing online research or participating in your school’s online forums.

First, see what’s already out there

Any online profiles you fill out could be broadcasting your personal information to anyone who searches for your name. Check this by doing a Google search for your full name, in quotes. If any online profiles come up that include your phone number, address or other personal information, sign in and delete anything that might compromise your privacy. Bear in mind that even if you delete these things from a website, it often takes days or even weeks for these changes to show up in a Google search.

Don’t post your phone number and email in public


You may be encouraged by your school’s online system to include personal information in a profile. This isn’t necessarily bad in itself—schools are trying to build online community—but your information could be viewable by the student body and possibly the Internet at large, depending on your school’s privacy protections. Leave as much information blank as you can—and give your contact information out to individual students and teachers only when you choose to.

Privatize your browser

Check out your web browser’s “setup,” “options” or “preferences” menu. There may be the option of entering in your name, email address and other information. And if that information is in your browser, it can be seen by others who know how to look. Remove that information from your browser’s records and it won’t fill in automatically in forms, but you’ll get the option to choose to share it individually on websites you trust.

Beware of developing a false sense of security

When you’re studying online, you may develop connections with other students and start to feel really comfortable in the forums. Be careful of what you reveal, however, even in the student community. Don’t reveal personal details like your place of employment, your address, or the fact that you’re planning to be out of town without careful consideration, and never discuss private details of your life in public in the forums.

Choose a more secure browser

Scammers can install malware on your browser hidden in a website link or an Internet download. This script can record every keystroke you type and send it to a third party computer, record information on where you go online, and display annoying ads as you surf the web—among other things. If you’re concerned about privacy, you may want to give some thought to the browser you choose. Internet Explorer is the one most people have—and it’s also the most frequently targeted by scammers. Other browsers such as Mozilla Firefox are less widely used, and there’s less incentive for criminals to develop malware and bugs to target it.

Be careful who you “friend”

If you’re on Facebook, you may be tempted to “friend” other people in your classes to get to know them. If you do, be sure to remove all contact information and other personal info from your profile. There’s nothing wrong with sharing this information with other students—but you should make sure you’re doing it voluntarily, not just putting it out there for people to find online.

When you’re online, you’re at risk of having your information stolen. Much of Internet privacy protection is common sense—don’t give out personal information if you don’t trust the site. Never post personal information in an online profile, such as where you work, where you live or your contact information—you can give that information out individually to people you trust and who need it, like a teacher or a study partner. And do your best to use a safer browser and be sure your privacy settings are enabled. 



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