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Facebook's recent 'instant personalization' has the blogosphere buzzing, and the privacy implications haven't gone unnoticed. Some believe that privacy is effectively dead online, and that individuals simply need to "get over it."

But is that really the case? Is privacy dead? For those of us who are active online, maintaining privacy can be a difficult task, but it's not impossible.

Here are nine tips for protecting your privacy on the internet...

Take advantage of privacy protection tools. There are plenty of ways to ward off all of the cookies and other common technologies that are used to track your every move online (for behavioral targeting, etc.). From dedicated programs to browser-based plugins, even the latest versions of Firefox and Internet Explorer offer 'private browsing' functionality that's easy to take advantage of.

Use different browsers. Depending on the nature and extent of your online activities, using different browsers may be a good way to help defend your privacy. For instance, you may want to use one browser for all of your social networking activities, but another browser for everything else you do online. This may be an especially valuable rule given the direction Facebook is going in.

Don't overshare. It should go without saying: everything you post online is, in effect, public. That's because you realistically have little to no ability to control what happens with the content and information you post. Given this, it's wise to avoid oversharing, and at a very minimum, everything you post online should only be posted after weighing the potential consequences against the potential value.

Think like an SEO. Everything you do online theoretically creates a trail of your activities. Sometimes the crumbs you leave on that trail reveal personal information, such as your name and location. When using online services, think like an SEO to evaluate whether or not your activities are likely to be visible on major search engines. For instance, does a particular website that includes member profiles display a made-up username or will everything you post to it be listed under your real name?

Be wary of social networking. While you may not want to avoid social networking altogether, which is the best approach for any person dedicated to protecting his or her privacy, being selective about the sites you use is important. Just as companies shouldn't sign up for every social media service under the sun, try to stick to those sites that you actually plan to use, and those sites whose privacy implications you understand.

Set up disposable and/or specific-purpose email addresses. Using one email address for everything you do online is convenient, but it can also create a privacy mess. Instead, consider setting up disposable emails when signing up for services you're not sure about. And give thought to setting up email addresses for specific purposes (eg. online shopping, email newsletters, etc.). When setting these email addresses up, you may even want to avoid providing accurate personal details (eg. your full name, true location, etc.).

Don't trust privacy policies. A privacy policy only tells you how personal information will be used under ideal or theoretical circumstances. But it says nothing about what's going to happen to it in real life. A rogue employee, a data breach or a change of ownership could render any website's privacy policy worthless. So instead of trusting a website based upon its privacy policy, base your trust on your trust of the person or company running it.

Don't give your personal information up so easily. Most online services, especially those that are free, want something in return. Usually, that something is personal information. Which is why it's so important to always compare the information you're required to give up to the information that a website operator realistically needs to provide you with a service in return. In some cases, you may find that you're being asked to give up certain kinds of personal information when there's no good reason why.

Choose the company you keep wisely. You can do everything right when it comes to your privacy, but if you happen to associate with people who are careless or downright voyeuristic, there's a good chance someone else will post information and content about you online. So it goes without saying that anyone concerned about his or her privacy online should make the effort to ensure that friends aren't a privacy liability.

Privacy may be difficult to maintain in an online world dominated by social networks, ad companies and other services that automatically collect massive amounts of data about their users. But by using available tools, staying vigilant and applying common sense, your privacy doesn't have to die every time you browse the web.

Photo credit: rpongsaj via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 12 May, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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