Skip Navigation

Online Privacy & Security

Jump to a Topic

Use this quick-link navigation to get where you need to go:

Section Overview Questions to Consider What is Your Digital Footprint? How Can Your Data Be Used? Threats to Online Security Best Practices for Online Security What To Do if Things Go Wrong Examples in the Library

Online Privacy & Security Overview

In an ideal world, we would all know how our information is used, and who has access at all times. Unfortunately, we cannot always trust every website and organization to consider the user's best interests. The lack of regulation in online information collection and use practices means the user must be aware of potential threats and know how to stay safe online.

  • Identity theft impacted 60 million Americans in 2018. That number is expected to grow.
  • The U.S. is the primary target for targeted attacks on online security
  • At least 12 billion records were breached in 2018, that number is expected to grow.
  • Internet of Things devices can increase security vulnerabilities.

These statistics were originally compiled by Norton Symantec security company in 10 Cyber Security Facts and Statistics for 2018. The following topics will help you inform patrons of their rights and responsibility to stay safe and secure online:

By the end of this section, you will:

  • Be aware of your digital footprint when you go online, and how to control privacy settings.
  • Know best practices to keep yourself safe online, and help library customers do the same.
  • Brainstorm ways to make these resources age appropriate, and connect patrons to new skills in creative ways.

This is only a sampling of what is available in the world of online privacy and security. If you come across other resources you found useful, please let me know and I will add them to the resource list. Resource sharing is always appreciated in libraries!

The Learning Process:

  1. Review the section summaries and read the resources that seem most relevant to your needs.
  2. Brainstorm how these resources can be adapted into handouts and workshops, or directly offered to patrons. Put the skills in context.
  3. Complete the Discussion Prompt in the Digital Literacy Course.

Questions to Consider

While reading this guide, consider these questions. Start brainstorming the most pressing Online Security & Privacy needs in your community. Think about how you can connect library customers with the information they need to stay safe in a digital world.

  1. Do you know how to delete information online? Can information truly be deleted?
  2. Are you comfortable with how information is used online?
  3. Do you feel that your information is safe online? Why or why not?
  4. Were you aware of the various threats to online security?
  5. Do you know what to do if your sensitive information becomes compromised?
  6. Do you know how to access and change privacy settings on different accounts?
  7. Where does your information go online? Who has access to the information?
  8. How does online security affect individuals and organizations in your community?

What is a Digital Footprint?

When you go online, you leave a data trail all around the web. To know what you’re leaving behind, it’s important to know how your information may be tracked. Here are the most common entities tracking your online activity:

  • Internet Service Provider (ISP)
  • Website Owners
  • Marketers
  • Data Brokers
  • Hackers

Be wary of organizations that do not ask for permission to collect data, or inform users what is collected and how. Few federal data collection regulations have been created or enforced, as seen by the State Laws Related to Internet Privacy. Many sites are self-regulated by owners and users.

The internet is a powerful tool that can benefit people in many ways. However, we have to be wary of what we click online, and pay attention to the business practices of the websites we use on a daily basis. The user keep tech companies in business by using their services.


Your Digital Footprint Matters: This series of tutorials from the Internet Society informs people about online data tracking, including how to take control.

(Video) "60 Minutes" Probes Data Brokers & Online Tracking: This YouTube video shows how data brokers are collecting data, oftentimes without the consent of the user. This could be a great discussion video for a conversation among patrons in the library.

Your Privacy in a Growing Internet of Me: Stay Safe Online provides this great infographic about how our data is being collected across different connected devices.

State Laws Related to Internet Privacy: Explore the state laws about internet privacy. Is there anything you would do differently to keep people safe?

Helping Parents Keep Their Children Safe Online: offers parent resource guides for different apps and online privacy/ security topics, advice based on age range, and resources for schools working with parents.

How Your Online Data is Used:

In the digital footprint section, we learned about the data trail we scatter around the web. The information is used in a variety of different ways, including the following:

  • Generate advertising revenue
  • Improve services and product quality (by website owner/ developer)
  • Sell and resell information through data brokers and third-party companies
  • Can be subpoenaed by government agency
  • Insurance companies conduct risk analysis
  • Online Health & Wellness
  • Identity verification & background checks
  • Research studies (universities, third-party companies, etc.)
  • Predict human behavior to inform organizational decisions


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Sides of Data Tracking: Mozilla has this and several other great articles about online privacy and security.

(Video) How Facebook Tracks Your Data: The New York Times put together this video about how Facebook tracks and uses data to gather insights about people. Facebook isn’t the only one who does tracks people; they are just used as an example because they are a larger tech company.

The Wired Guide to Your Personal Data (and Who is Using it): Wired allows four free articles per user, per month. This is a great resource, but there are others out there as well.

Acxiom: This is one of the world's largest data brokers, providing data insights to organizations around the world. See how they apply data in creative ways, and encourage ethical data collection.

(Infographic) What Does the Internet Know About Me? Made by Amanda Sweet, our Technology Innovation Librarian, this three page infographic tells you what you need to know what your data and privacy online.

Culturomics: Using Big Data to Study Human Behavior: Learn how large data sets can help predict human behavior, and how those insights can be used.

Threats to Online Security:

In the physical world, there are pickpockets, bank robbers, and malicious impersonators who are up to no good. In the digital world, there are hackers, identity thieves, and others who are up to no good. The average person has to be on their guard no matter what.

We now have to protect ourselves against data breaches, viruses and malware, phishing scams, hacking attempts, spam, fake websites, weak account security, unsecure WiFi networks, botnets, and more. Luckily, there are precautions we can take to protect ourselves against these threats. Consult the resources below to learn more about these specific threats and actions we can take.


What to do During a Data Breach: The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse outlines what a Data Breach is and how we can take action to protect ourselves.

Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats: The Small Business Administration outlines common cyber threats and how to prevent disaster.

(Infographics) Privacy & Security: Explore this collection of downloadable infographics from Inspired Learning to use in your library.

Cybersecurity Printable Infographics: Harvard Information Security offers this collection of printable infogrpahcis describing ransomware, password security, and more.

Live Cyber Threat Map: Click on a country or region to find out how many cyber attacks happens in the past 30 days, and what kind. See cyberattack data in real time around the world.

Best Practices for Online Security

The previous section showed how hackers might attempt to access our personal information. This list summary from UC Berkeley offers this Top 10 List of Secure Computing Tips:

  • You are a target to hackers
  • Keep software up to date
  • Avoid Phishing scams (beware of suspicious emails and phone calls)
  • Practice good password management
  • Be careful what you click
  • Never leave devices unattended
  • Protect sensitive data
  • Use mobile devices safely
  • Install anti-virus protection
  • Back up your data

The resources below offer more information about these tips. Some sources below can be printed and used as handouts for classes, or adapted and made available at the reference desk.


Top 10 Secure Computing Tips: Tips from UC Berkeley for how to stay safe and secure online.

Cybersecurity Printable Infographics: Harvard Information Security offers this collection of printable infogrpahcis describing ransomware, password security, and more.

FTC Smartphone Security Checker: This tool will allow you to choose your mobile operating system and access ten steps to follow to secure mobile devices. This is from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

10 Steps to Mobile Security: This is a more generalized list for smartphone safety from the FTC. This could be printed out or made available during device training sessions.

Use this Infographic to Pick a Good, Strong Password: This infographic from Lifehacker is awesome. There are also additional resources at the end of the infographic. It would make a great library printout.

Creating and Managing Strong Passwords: The Cyber Infrastructure team at the Department of Homeland Security put together a brief list of what to look for in a good password.

Tips for Strong, Secure Passwords & Other Authentication Tools: Connect Safely is also a great password tips and other cybersecurity tips and tricks.

(Video) How To Use a Password Manager: This video from The Verge describes how set up and use a password manager. It uses LastPass as an example, and provides information about security threats.

The Best Free Password Managers for 2019: PC Magazine reviewed the top password managers to secure passwords in one location.

Privacy & Internet Security for Parents: This collection of resources is separted by major question topic and offers some great tips and resources for busy parents.

What to Do if Things Go Wrong

Things don’t always go the way we plan. However, there are plenty of resources to consult when things go wrong. Use these resources for yourself and feel free to use them with library patrons.


Recovering from Identity Theft: The Federal Trade Commission offers this “one-stop resource to help you report and recover from identity theft”. This tool will help build a recovery plan to get back on track.

Data Breach Response: A Guide for Businesses: Businesses need help preparing for the digital age as well. This guide will help them protect against data breaches.

What do Do When You Receive a Data Breach Notice: The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse built this guide for the average consumer. They outline how to respond to different kinds of data breaches.

Examples in the Library

To get the ball rolling, here is a quick sampling of ways these resources and skills can be added or incorporated into existing programs in the library:

  • Parents Group: Parents like to know what works for other people and discuss how to keep their kids safe. Gather parents together and ask for their preferred topics.
    • Provide links to Common Sense Media's Ultimate Guide series, let parents discuss.
    • Talk about screen time, what works, and what doesn't?
    • Do you know how your kids spend time online?
    • Talk about social media use, and how it is impacting kids.
  • Older Adults
    • Host workshops to discuss examples of "cybersecurity gone wrong" and discuss how the problems could be prevented.
    • Host a beginner's tech petting zoo for common devices.
    • Provide handouts, bookmarks, postcards, etc. with privacy & security tips.
    • Teach people how to find crafting tips online, include privacy and security flyers.
  • Children
  • Teens
    • Provide online privacy & security handouts and posters in common meeting areas.
    • Add a mini privacy & security session during online gaming events.
    • Start internships for teens to teach younger kids and older adults about online privacy & security for college and job applications.
    • Ask teens to design online games for kids and include privacy and security tips.
  • Adults
    • Include privacy and security tip sheet handouts during resume building workshops.
    • Start a "how to write your own blog" group and include privacy & security tips.
    • Offer a computer basics course, including safety and security.
    • Add new handouts to device assistance sessions.
Communication & Etiquette →

Back to Top