The internet is not a private place. Everything we do online is seen by someone else, whether we realize it or not. And I’m willing to bet that most of you (myself included) don’t read the privacy policies or terms and conditions of websites you join. But you most definitely should.

There have been a lot of online privacy snafus recently. There was the issue with Google’s terms of service as how it applies to Drive, Pinterest’s terms and conditions problem and Google snooping on Safari users, among others. So it’s important to know what you’re getting into when you accept a website’s privacy policy. You should not only read the document, but peruse it with the finest-toothed comb you can find. Read every sentence, word and letter.

But what should you be looking for exactly?

Most importantly, you should know what information is being collected and what security measures are in place to protect that information. The information sites like Facebook, Google and others collect can vary from site to site, but usually it includes your personal contact info along with anything else you upload to the site. For Facebook, this means everything you post, like, comment on, upload, et al. And now with the explosion of the mobile Web, even more data can be gleaned by website–geolocation specifically. You should also make sure the data you do share with the website is secure.

It’s also crucial to find out if your data is removable. A lot of companies, especially social networks, have stockpiles of information that will make your head spin. And most of the time, they usually reserve the right to share your data with other companies and third-party affiliates. You should always be aware of whether or not you can personally delete your data if you decide to do so. One example of this is photo sharing on Facebook.

Ars Technica found out that photos that had been “deleted” by users were still rearing their heads three years later. The catch was, while they weren’t showing up on users’ profiles, they could still be accessed if you had a direct link to the file on Facebook’s servers. This is a problem that Facebook has yet to fix completely. If you want to test it yourself, right click one of your photos on Facebook and copy the URL and save it somewhere on your computer. Then deleted that photo and in a few weeks’ time, open your browser and copy that image’s URL. Chances are your photo will still be there.

And lastly, because you’re technically signing a legal agreement when you accept a privacy policy or terms of service, you should make sure the other party is holding up their end of the deal. One of the easiest ways is to find out if a site is violating their own agreement is to do a quick search. Looks for privacy concerns, class-action lawsuits, etc. If you find something, you might want to think twice about taking part in that site’s activities.

Do you have questions or concerns about online privacy polices? Tell us in the comments, we want to know what you think!

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