Online privacy: frequently asked questions

This information applies to Windows Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Internet Explorer 8.

Here are answers to common questions about online privacy and security.

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What is phishing and how can Internet Explorer help protect me from it?

Online phishing (pronounced like the word fishing) is a way to trick computer users into revealing personal or financial information through an e‑mail message or website. This information is then usually used for identity theft. SmartScreen Filter in Internet Explorer 8 or Phishing Filter in Internet Explorer 7 can help identify suspicious and reported phishing websites. For more information on SmartScreen Filter in Internet Explorer 8, see SmartScreen Filter: frequently asked questions. For more information on Phishing Filter in Internet Explorer 7, see Phishing Filter: frequently asked questions.

What are cookies?

Cookies are small text files that some websites put on your computer to store information about you. Cookies can make browsing more convenient by letting you return to websites without having to log in again, or by remembering your webpage preferences. Most cookies are created by websites that you visit and they are useful to you. Some cookies, however, are created on your computer by advertisers to track your browsing and shopping habits without your knowledge or permission. Internet Explorer lets you block or allow cookies. For more information, see Cookies: frequently asked questions.

What's should I know about privacy policies?

Many websites that collect personal information also publish privacy policies that describe how the site will use your information. Before entering any personal information into a website, you should read the privacy statement carefully, especially if you are unfamiliar with the site. Look for conditions that you do not agree with, such as allowing the website to share your information with others or the requirement that you will accept e‑mail or advertising. Remember that even though the website might have a privacy statement, it doesn't mean that the website will not misuse your information. You should not give personal information to a website you do not trust. For more information, see When to trust a website.

How can I protect my privacy when shopping online?

Most online merchants use secure connections to provide an encrypted connection between Internet Explorer and the website. Encrypted connections make it difficult for a hacker to intercept your personal or financial information as it is being sent to the website. This encryption is provided by a security certificate, which is an electronic document that identifies the website. Although encryption can help protect your information as it travels over the Internet, it doesn't guarantee that the website is reputable or that they protect your information once they receive it. In Internet Explorer you will see a lock in the Security Status bar at the top of your browser. Click the lock to view a security report that displays the identity information about the website. For more information about secure transactions, see How to know if an online transaction is secure.

Where can I get more information about privacy and online safety?

The Microsoft Security at Home website provides tools, tips, and links to help you and your family browse the Internet more safely.