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Confidentiality and privacy online

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Find out how you can trust us to look after your privacy and respect your confidentiality on myHIV.

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The basics of online privacy

Use your work computer for work only. Never use your work email for sensitive communications, and never use your work computer to look up things that you wouldn’t otherwise be open about.

If you have a password-protected account at work, remember that the password is there to protect the company information and not your personal content. Other people in the company, such as system administrators and managers, will still have access to your account.

Learn about strong passwords. Unfortunately those that are easy to remember are rarely strong (although that is not necessarily true) so consider using a password manager if you have a lot of user accounts.

Protect your user account. If you use a shared computer at home, always have a separate, password-protected user account on your operating system. That way you’ll ensure that you have access to all applications installed on the machine, but that all your settings and content will stay private.

If you let others use your machine, have a Guest user account for that purpose and always log out of your own account before lending your machine out.

Log out when done. Try not to use personal social media accounts at work and on public computers - but if you must, remember to always log out and never let the browser remember your passwords.


Safe browsing and searching

Browsers store all your browsing history by default. Many of them have an autocomplete feature in their status bar, which lets anyone look up the pages that you’ve visited by typing even a single letter. The same goes for quick search bars.

Some browsers show a list of your most visited pages in every new tab, which makes it very easy for others to see which sites you spend most of your time on.

Browsers also store cookies, which keep track of your online behaviour (such as your site visits and searches) and other private data, which can then be displayed in the form of adverts.

Even if you’re careful about visiting certain sites and you do it only when no-one is around, your search and browsing history will still be reflected in the products and services that are advertised to you in the browser. The same goes for your searches – search engines such as Google and Bing remember every term you search for, and they pass this data on to advertisers.

Use private browsing windows. If you have to look something up at work or on a shared computer, use private browsing (also known as ‘incognito mode’ in Chrome and ‘private window’ in FireFox). In this mode the browser won’t save your history, cookies or any other data (it will still be visible to the system administrator though).

You should also make sure you know how to clear your browser’s history and cookies and do it periodically.

Safe searching. Use search engines that don’t track and collect data, such as DuckDuckGo.

Serious about private browsing. If you’re still worried about your privacy and are willing to do sacrifice some of your bandwidth for extra security, consider using the Tor browser. It doesn’t offer the best user experience but it completely conceals and anonymises your online behaviour, so it’s a good tool for your most sensitive searches and browsing.


Tips for better privacy on your mobile:

Take advantage of privacy tools on your phone. If you’re an iPhone user, set your message and email notifications to ‘no preview’ and use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode if you’re around people who could peek at your screen. Android phones have similar settings on many applications.

Use encrypted communication apps - WhatsApp offers full end-to-end encryption to all its users. Some communication apps - such as SnapChat and Signal - offer ‘burn after reading’ features. You can compare the security levels of different communications apps on the EFF website.

Be careful with permissions. Never grant other apps access to your keyboard – this goes mainly for apps that add external emoji or gifs to your keyboard – as this compromises the security of everything you type on your phone. Be equally careful with giving external apps permissions to use your microphone, camera and location.


Using forums, dating sites and social media

If you want to keep your membership in an online community or dating site a secret, never re-use unique usernames, especially if you have a recognisable last name, a stage name, Twitter handle or nickname. These can sometimes be googled or looked up by non-members.

Only post things that you’re already open about on your Facebook page, even if you’ve only ‘friended’ a select bunch of relatives and close mates. Privacy settings are already hugely complicated and they change almost constantly, so posting some things might not really be worth the risk.

Be careful with Liking pages and links and with joining groups – even private groups on Facebook don’t offer real privacy.


For general advice about your safety online, visit the Get Safe Online website:

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