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What to look for in a privacy policy

What is collected?
What is collected? © Pressmaster/Shutterstock.com

Is the company asking for some information from you? If so, it's a good bet that any personal information you voluntarily enter into a website form, such as your name, billing addresses, shipping addresses and purchase information, is collected by the company. What's not so obvious is the other electronic information, known as tracking cookies, that is also gathered, says Aaron Messing, a privacy attorney at OlenderFeldman LLP in New Jersey.

For example, Amazon culls information on whatever Internet browser you use, your time-zone setting, your operating system and purchase history. The company also can collect location information when you download its apps.

Messing recommends offering only the necessary information to complete a purchase. Leave any unrequired fields, such as age, race or sex, blank.

Avoid linking accounts to your social media accounts, too, says Professor Jim Gibson, the director of University of Richmond (Va.) School of Law's Intellectual Property Institute. Stick to the tried-and-true strategy of designating an email just for your online transactions.

Also, when looking over the agreement, look for words such as "collect" and "gather" that can tip you off to what they might be doing with your information.

"You can't expect the law to help you. You're your own best self-help," Gibson says. "The best thing you can do is limit the amount of personal information you convey."

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