20 Tips to Help Protect Your Online Privacy

by Sherryl Perry on July 27, 2011

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Let’s face it, when we get online and access the Internet, we’re vulnerable to security threats. Whether we’re online through a modem, a DSL line, cable or wireless, there are risks involved. There are computer viruses, malware, adware, spyware, identification theft and general privacy issues. In addition to protecting our computers, we now have to protect our smart phones and other mobile devices. Additionally, online privacy is an issue that anyone who accesses the Internet has to deal with these days. Here are 20 tips to help protect your privacy on the Internet:

1.) Don’t post personal information like email addresses, phone numbers, street addresses, etc. online.

2.) Use passwords that contain a mix of letters, numbers and special characters.

3.) Change your passwords frequently and keep them private.

4.)  Create a throw-away email account that you can use for mailing lists, forums etc. If it gets spammed, delete it and create a new one.

5.) Be diligent about opening emails and clicking on links.

6.) Never reply to spammers. (You’re verifying your email address.)

7.) Install, update and regularly run security software (anti-virus, anti-malware and anti-spam).

8.) Install software/apps on your mobile devices to track theft and protect yourself from viruses, spam and malware.

9.) Install updates to your software (operating systems, WordPress, Joomla, Drupla, SQL, and related plugins, extensions, etc.)

10.) Install a firewall appliance (such as a broadband router) as well as firewall software. Used together, you have a higher degree of protection.

11.) Be wary of wireless connections in public places like coffee shops and airports. Other people on the network could possibly access your information.

12.) Be conscious if the website that you’re on is secure. The URL of a secure site begins with https:// rather than http://.

13.) When you’re on a social networking site (Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc.), be aware of your privacy settings. Oftentimes, the default is to be public. Change your settings to fit your personal needs.

14.) If you have children, install parental controls and monitor their online activities. Teach your children to never share personal information online. (Joining the same social networking sites that they do and becoming their “friend” is a good idea too.)

15.) Be cautious of what “apps” (applications) you authorize to access your accounts and occasionally check the apps you’ve authorized to see if any can be removed or blocked.

16.) Before you do business on a site, make sure you read (and understand) their privacy policy to make sure that your data is not being shared or sold.

17.) Don’t automatically consent to the collection, use or storage of your personal information.

18.) Make it clear that you do not wish your information to be disclosed to any third party.

19.) Replace antiquated software that has been discontinued and no longer supported. 

20.) Host your websites with a reputable vendor that has a reputation of proven security mechanisms and routine security practices.

What are your thoughts? I’m sure there are many more tips and ideas of ways we can protect ourselves online. What are your favorite ways to protect yourself and your family from having your computers and mobile devices compromised?

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Stasia Rehrig December 8, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Great tips ahead Sheryll! It is really important to be more secured online and of course the privacy is a must because hackers are intelligent enough to destroy all the things we have online.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
December 9, 2011 at 11:09 am

Thanks Stasia. It’s unfortunate that there are so many risks online but there are certainly steps that we can take to make it more difficult for them.
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Audrey November 18, 2011 at 5:59 pm

I guess one of the most important thing to do in order to protect yourself is to keep your password as a secret. There are times that we entrusted our passwords to somebody. Then if there comes a time that things aren’t going right, some petty quarrels are there, then there’s a high chance for a person to mess-up one’s account using the password given to him/her.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
November 18, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Audrey, on the few occasions where I’ve needed to provide my password, I’ve set up a temporary account for the person and then deleted it after wards. Thanks for bringing this up. It’s a good point.
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Audrey November 20, 2011 at 7:27 pm

You’re right! Making a temporary account could be the best choice for a person not to give his/her own password. Anyway, this is an issue not because we don’t really trust somebody rather, we simply need to protect our interest.

neil October 31, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Good coverage on this subject, I did an article about how to stay safe online but you covered it better. Good work.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
November 19, 2011 at 10:09 am

Neil, Thanks for coming by and letting me know that you found my article about keeping your online privacy safe. I apologize for not replying sooner but somehow, I missed your comment.
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leanah September 21, 2011 at 9:16 am

A great way on how to protect ourselves from dangers brought by online transactions. Nowadays it is important for people to be fully aware of what may happen to them if we are not responsible in doing transactions online. This post helps me a lot in ensuring my safety by doing online works.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
September 21, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Thanks for the feedback Leanah. Other than time, I don’t believe there’s a cost associated with any of the tips that I’ve listed. On the other hand, there can be a hug cost if you don’t heed them. I’m glad you found this helpful and that you left a comment! Thanks.
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Pete Goumas September 18, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Hi Sherryl,
Great tips.Online privacy is a very important issue these days and I like your tips especially the points related to passwords and personal details.We should be carefull in selecting and changing passwords.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
September 18, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Hi Pete, Thanks for joining us. For years, I worked at a large non-profit and there was one department that I was constantly battling with. One woman in particular always kept her passwords written down on post-it-notes that she would leave out on her desk. It wasn’t until I told her that anyone could use her computer to send a nasty email to her boss (or something much worse) when she finally started listening to me. I still shake my head in amazement. 🙂
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George
Twitter:
September 18, 2011 at 3:21 am

These are great tips. Taking precautionary measures before any type of online activities is something that’s quite unavoidable now. These days spammers disguise themselves to rob our money and valuable data.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
September 18, 2011 at 8:55 am

We do need to be diligent. I understand someone wanting to wait a day or two before updating Wordpress and plugins but we definitely need to keep an eye on the reasons why there’s an update. Lots of times the new versions are in response to security vulnerabilities.
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Joe September 10, 2011 at 2:36 pm

It is hard for small businesses. They need to be social and post real names, addresses, phone numbers and their place of business. This does invite problems, but you got to do it if you want business.

Use good spam filters, keep your place of business secure and be careful who you do business with. You don’t want to get mixed up with the wrong people when your information is out there.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
September 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm

It can be challenging for small businesses to maintain an online presence while still handling the day-to-day business. Unfortunately, most of my 20 tips are necessary. The cost of not protecting yourself online is necessary. Small business owners are already up against time constraints and having to be diligent about privacy and hacking issues just adds to our burden. Thanks for your input.
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 30, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Well James, at least you don’t spam any more. That’s good news! 🙂 Thanks for confirming that we shouldn’t reply. It’s sort of like engaging with ‘trolls’ online.
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 30, 2011 at 8:02 pm

I agree. I see an awful lot of people falling for scams that appear to be from Facebook. No matter what email I get that appears to originate from Facebook, I never click on links. It’s much safer to go to the site and see if it’s a legitimate request or not.
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James H August 29, 2011 at 1:29 pm

I used to make a little money from email spam on the site (should I admit that!) and I can tell you that your point about replying is a good one. Even if you just fire off an annoyed reply saying not to email you again you have proven that there is someone picking up the email at that address!

karen August 17, 2011 at 3:48 am

In today’s time where social media is at its peak it is indeed a right move to protect yourself online. I’m also using a different emails for business and personal use and the changing of passwords is kind of a habit for me.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 17, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Hi Karen,
I think one of the best tips is to be cautious of what links we click on. I am so cautious about clicking on links in emails that have supposedly come from a site like Facebook. When I get FB notifications, I always go directly to the site first to see if it’s real. Often, it’s not.
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Wong Chendong August 15, 2011 at 8:55 pm

Well, my blog was hack last month, though the hacker did not do much in my dashboard only placing a file hidden in one of my folder with advertising images using my blog URL to link back to a wordpress site, I do not know how this person do that, but luckily I hire a hacker team of 3 people to clear this hack for me.
It took about 3 days of work to find the folder that contain all the advertising pictures. All thanks to Andy from comment Luv that actually alert me as my comment Luv plugin doesn’t work because of the hack file that’s blocking it.
It was a lesson I learn that even I change my password weekly, people are still able to log in to my site and this is how dangerous it is when you are expose online…

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 16, 2011 at 10:56 am

That’s awful that your site was hacked Wong. That’s great that Andy alerted you. It’s good to be part of a community of bloggers who look out for each other. Do you have any idea how it happened?
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Wong Chendong August 16, 2011 at 11:32 am

I’m not sure, just that my commentluv plugin suddenly didn’t work and then I contacted Andy for help, he access my commentluv plugin and saw some links blocking my site and linking back to pages that had images located at wordpress.com, so he alert me that my blog might had been hack, and that’s how it happen…

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 16, 2011 at 3:39 pm

That was certainly good detective work by Andy. Good luck! I hope it never happens to you again.

Siddarth Rajsekar August 11, 2011 at 5:04 am

Great post…! Nice to connect with another Online Networker.. Went through your blog and I should say there’s some really good content here… Wish you all success and let’s stay connected! – Sidz

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 16, 2011 at 10:53 am

Hi Sidarth,
Thanks for dropping by. I checked out your blog and I like your content too. I tweeted your post about tools for recording Google Plus hangouts. That will come in handy. Thanks!
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 10, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I try to not write down any passwords or at least write down a cryptic version. I am totally paranoid about someone learning my passwords. I used to work for a large non-profit and there were several individuals who would post their passwords in their cubicles. That used to drive me nuts.
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 10, 2011 at 4:12 pm

You’re welcome Ron. Thank you for letting me know that you found the information valuable.
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Sonny August 9, 2011 at 4:57 pm

As far as #16 is concerned, if a portion of that document reads, “We MAY share your personally identifiable information with some of our corporate partners,” you should interpret that to mean, “You WILL be spammed, and most likely be sent unsolicited mail via post, by third parties…”

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 9, 2011 at 5:15 pm

That’s so true Sonny. Thanks for the reminder.
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Anita August 5, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Hi Sherryl,
I have something to add about wireless connections in public places (coffee shops…). You can simply use a VPN and you are safe. A VPN will encrypt your connection so no one can see what you are doing. You can get one for like 2-3$ per month so it might be a good idea if you use public wifi a lot 🙂
have a good day,
Anita

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 5, 2011 at 2:55 pm

That’s a great suggestion Anita! Thanks so much for adding it.
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Dennis Salvatier
Twitter:
August 4, 2011 at 3:18 am

You know, as much as time passes, we still fall victim to so many of these web traps. Some of these are incredibly obvious, but people still fail to protect themselves. For example, I have a friend who recently replied to a spammer by calling them a a-hole. That caused havoc on her inbox and spammed her entire contact list with emails about male enhancement. Thanks for the reminders, Sherryl.
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 4, 2011 at 10:45 am

Dennis, Thanks for reminding us to not reply to spammers. That must have been a nightmare for your friend. Yesterday, I spent close to 4 hours restoring my brother-in-law’s computer. He had clicked on a link on Facebook and got a particularly nasty virus. In addition to corrupting his operating system, it had disabled the CD Rom drive. So, initially, you couldn’t even boot the computer from that.
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Janet
Twitter:
August 3, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Sherryl, aloha. Great list and good to have on hand to share with others. Thank you.

Sherryl, recently I started using a service which I quite like. It has a paid and free version; I am using the free version. It is unsubscribe.com

What it does is “analyze your Social Networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) to find applications you have installed which might have access to your data without your knowledge, are companies or developers with a negative reputation or are applications that you no longer use.”

We don’t think of all the apps we have opened when we commented on someone’s blog. If you use it, you will see exactly what I mean. Sherryl, I still had apps opened for a blog that I had no commented on for months.

Another feature it has that I like is that now when I go to open a new app, it will tell me the security level. If I still want to use the app, briefly so I can do something, I will allow it and then, as soon as I finish with it, unsubscribe.

Do check it out and let me know what you think. Until next time, aloha. Janet

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 4, 2011 at 11:14 am

This is a wonderful tip Janet! I had never heard of unsubscribe.com before. I’m definitely going to try out the free version. Just glancing at the testimonials, I can’t imagine not trying this out. Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂
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Keyuri Joshi
Twitter:
August 1, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Thank you Sherryl. There really is a lot that we can do to protect ourselves. I recently googled my name and my business name. Google showed a map that had my home address on it. I changed it immediately. It’s scary how things we don’t necessarily pay attention to can haunt us. Each of your suggestions is valuable.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 2, 2011 at 10:43 am

Hi Keyuri,
Thanks for taking the time to come by and comment. I know you’re busy with new and exciting projects. It is disturbing to see the personal information that’s online. As a parent coach, you must often hear concerns from parents who are faced with trying to protect the identity of their children.
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Keyuri Joshi
Twitter:
August 2, 2011 at 12:45 pm

You are right Sherryl. Parents are worried not just about their children’s identity but all those hidden dangers that we don’t even know to look out for. It seems as if we get a handle on protecting ourselves, and then a new threat emerges without us even knowing to look for it. Even Facebook doesn’t make new policies clear. We have to work hard to keep ourselves educated. Blogs posts such as yours make a vital difference in keeping all of us in the loop.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 3, 2011 at 7:22 pm

I really enjoy and value your parenting advice Keyuri and often share your articles on Facebook. The Internet has really raised the level of diligence that we need to protect our children online. It’s imperative to keep a close eye on their accounts and online activity.
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Robert March 1, 2012 at 3:44 am

That’s really a fantastic list, but it’s not easy to implement all those 20 tips – unfortunately it is also a bit time consuming. I was also wondering if anyone can recommend a good and free anti-virus program for PC. THanks a lot.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
March 1, 2012 at 10:57 am

Robert, Lots of times Internet Service Providers will offer free access to anti-virus package to their customers. That might be the best bet for you. If not, I suggest going to CNet.com and doing a search. They have reviews and recommendations. I’ve never run into a problem downloading software from their site.
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Michele Welch
Twitter:
August 1, 2011 at 11:08 am

Great list Sherryl. I’ve been a victim of spam and hacks before so I know all too well unfortunately of the horrible effects they can have on you. Actually lost my first site due to my lack of knowledge with protecting my information and my sites. Hard lesson to learn for sure.

I just recently be told as well to expand on your point with giving access to apps (this is done a lot for twitter), is that you should be going into your applications settings and revoking the access afterwards. This applies to other apps such as Gmail as well.

Thanks for the list… very useful stuff as always! 🙂

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 1, 2011 at 11:29 am

That is a hard lesson to learn Michelle. When one of my sites was hacked, I learned to take updating my software seriously. Thankfully, I was able to recover my site.

Great point about revoking the access of apps we’ve allowed Michelle! As always, thanks for dropping by. 🙂
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Micro Niche Finder January 29, 2012 at 10:18 am

Thanks for that great collection of internet security tips. I also use Firewall plugin for my WordPress blog to protect it against attacks from hackers. The plugin is free and can be downloaded from the Wordpress.org website.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
January 29, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Thanks for the recommendation. Kimberly Castleberry recently recommended that plugin to me and I have yet to install it. I’ll install it today for sure.
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Ashley Dimacali August 1, 2011 at 7:16 am

I never thought of making a throw-away email before so thanks for that advice. I am an avid facebook user. I log in to my account everyday and the very threat to one’s account there recently are the appearances of suspicious website and video links.Most of the links have illicit contents or images. I’ve never tried clicking on one but,sadly,some of my friends do and all of a sudden they’ll be horrified in discovering there are malicious posts on their walls they didn’t post and private messages sent to their group of facebook friends that they never sent themselves.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 1, 2011 at 9:06 am

Hi Ashley,
I know exactly what you’re talking about on Facebook! As soon as these incidents happen, there’s a flurry of posts about it too – telling us it’s not from them. 🙂
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Clark Minn July 31, 2011 at 8:29 pm

It is not easy to protect our privacy especially online…This is maybe because of people who are experts in hacking and invading privacy of other people…Thank you for the tips here…

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
August 1, 2011 at 9:04 am

I agree Clark. Sometimes, the best we can do is be diligent and try to make it difficult for them.
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Mario July 29, 2011 at 2:05 pm

With all the social networks our privacy is in jeopardy. Also, if you participate in forums be sure not to post personal pictures or data. And if you connect through a public wireless connection be super cautious with the sites your access, there are people inside the public network who could steal your passwords.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
July 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Good tips Mario. Thanks for dropping by and commenting.
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Jessica Baron July 29, 2011 at 7:22 am

Computer viruses and malware really bugs me. Its really irritating. I checked your list and find it useful in some ways. Can you recommend me to a free software that will able to detect these kind of viruses?

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
July 29, 2011 at 1:10 pm

I really don’t know of any free anti-virus software to recommend Jessica. (Personally, I use Kaspersky which is not free but it’s worth the cost to me for the protection that it provides.) Some ISPs (your Internet service provider) like Comcast offer free anti-virus protection. It’s possible that you’re eligible to download a version of a well known anti-virus program. Maybe someone else here has a suggestion.
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Diane
Twitter:
July 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Hi Sherryl what is the secret to getting rid of your social media overlay, it’s really irritating as I cannot read your posts easily. I find it very offputting.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
July 29, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Diane,
What do you mean by my “social media overlay”? I recently changed my share plugin and I tweaked a couple of other things on my blog. If there’s a problem viewing my site, I’d like to address it immediately. What browser are you using and what is happening when you view my blog?

Thanks for letting me know! Anytime anyone notices a problem on my site, I appreciate hearing about it.
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Jeannette Paladino
Twitter:
July 28, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Sherryl,
Good suggestions. When you’re in business, though, it is a difficult to decide how much information to give out and how much to hide. You do want prospects to find you. Also, there is so much inflormation about you in different directories — even in the white pages — that is sometimes a losing battle to have any privacy.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
July 29, 2011 at 1:01 pm

That is the dilemma Jeannette. How much info is too much? Like you, I want prospects to be able to find me. The approach I take is to limit the amount of personal info that I share but I don’t generally hesitate to post any info about my business or my qualifications. I just always keep in the back of my mind that any time I hit the submit button (unless I’m confident that I’m logged into a secure environment), I’m sharing with the world – forever. Hopefully that approach will keep me out of trouble.
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Catarina Alexon
Twitter:
July 28, 2011 at 7:51 am

Great and complete list Sherryl. What else can we do? However, having said that if for some reason a hacker get their sight on us we are in for a nasty surprise:-)

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
July 29, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I know Catarina. Sometimes, all we can do is hope we’re not targeted. Thankfully, my hosting vendor has an amazing backup system. The one time that I had a site hacked into (years ago), they came to my rescue.
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Ray July 28, 2011 at 1:41 am

Funny you should mention changing passwords. I just changed a few accounts last night. Which, is usually a good thing. But, I keep trying to use the old password and I can’t login. I hate that part of trying to remember the new one, but it’s worth it in the long run. There sure is more concern with security and privacy than there used to be.
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
July 29, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I run into the same problem Ray. 🙂 I recently installed the limit-login-attempts plugin about the same time I reset my WP admin password. A couple of times I tried to log in with my old password and I began to wonder if I had shut myself out. LOL
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Kim Davies July 28, 2011 at 12:34 am

Hi, Sherryl.

Your list makes me wince because I am not sure if I am doing all the things you mentioned except the password thing. I am not too good about technical things, so I leave all that stuff to my boss. 😀 But, I bet my boss knows about this privacy stuff, so I am kinda appeased a bit, but not quite. 😉

I’m super glad you shared this, though. A lot of people will benefit from this. Not just me.

Hope your week is going well. 🙂
Kim

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
July 29, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Hi Kim,
It’s reassuring to be able to rely on someone else for security at work. (I miss the days when I had staff who took care of all the IT stuff and I didn’t have to do it myself.) I’m sure you must have a personal computer and possibly a smart phone that you have to safeguard. I believe we’re going to be hearing of more and more people who don’t realize that they need to safeguard their phones (until they run into trouble).

Thanks Kim. I’ve had a very productive week. I hope your week is going well too.
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kathleen
Twitter:
July 27, 2011 at 11:22 pm

A very thoughtful list Sherryl. Apps are most concerning, and annoying in my opinion. The apps oftentimes request full range of our profiles, friends, and such. Reading their long list is quite scary. In fact, I’m waiting for them to ask to sample my DNA!

Have a great week!
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
July 29, 2011 at 12:45 pm

“Sample my DNA!” – LOL Kathleen. I know exactly what you mean. The apps that most concern me are the ones coming from friends on Facebook. I would gladly vote for your grandchild’s photo but do I really need to give access to a brand who sells baby products to vote?
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kathleen
Twitter:
July 29, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Exactly how I feel Sherryl. I’d like to tell them, Send me an email will ya, I’ll vote twice!

Hope you have a great weekend.
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
July 30, 2011 at 9:04 am

Exactly! If I can vote without giving access to my personal info, I’ll vote every day.
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