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When you surf the web, send email, chat, and post to newsgroups, your computer leaves behind a digital footprint called an IP address. Footprints in the real world fade with time, but in Cyberspace, your IP address is recorded alongside the pages you accessed, the contents of your chat sessions, and even email you thought was long gone. The Internet's 35,000 newsgroups are now fully archived and searchable online as well.

Combined with the tidbits of personal information you reveal casually online - your name and address for instance - your computer's IP address can be linked to your real-life identity. Even if you provide false information to website registration forms, or use password-protected web services, your personal information can easily be tracked down. Remember, the Internet was designed for computers to exchange information, not hide it.

Internet traffic, such as email messages, are just like postcards. Anyone with a little technical know-how can intercept and read your messages, and discover who you're communicating with and what you're saying. The same is true with online chat rooms. It "feels" like you're anonymous, because you might use an online alias, not your real name. And when your words scroll off the screen, it's like they're gone forever. This couldn't be further from the truth. Your IP address is recorded alongside your chat conversations, which are stored in company database logs. You can never take back what you say online.

Where you live, what you earn, where you went to school, your religious beliefs, who you voted for, your hobbies, your credit history, your marital status� Marketers want to know as much as they can about you, to identify what kind of car you might buy or what your next music purchase might be. The Internet is the perfect tool for marketers looking to compile detailed personal profiles of millions of consumers. Why? Because in the age of cheap data storage, most companies record every mouseclick. It only takes a few tidbits of personal data to connect your computer's IP address with your online communications, and all kinds of detailed information about you can be recorded, tracked, aggregated, bought and sold. If you think this sounds far-fetched, think again. This kind of surveillance is happening now.

Many of the web's most popular sites display banner-type advertising, almost always provided by one of several huge web marketing companies. Whenever your computer accesses a page with one of their ads, they take a snapshot of what you were looking at and put it in your profile. This is usually accomplished using "cookies" (little pieces of identifying data stored on your computer's hard drive) to recognize you if you visit any other partner sites.
So next time you use a major search engine to look for a book, don't be surprised to find an ad for at the top of the page, and to get book club offers in the mail. For a long time. When a website asks for your birthday in order to display your horoscope, think about what you're revealing: linked to other info like your postal code (which you may have given out a few clicks back for the local weather report), and your IP address, your identity is easily determined. Suddenly all your habits and opinions are available to the highest bidder.

You're a good person with nothing to hide, so why should you care if your personal information and communications are vulnerable? Lots of reasons.
Beyond the annoyance of being bombarded with marketing messages, companies, individuals and others may have a stake in learning about you.

Here are some examples of recent privacy breaches that can happen to you*:

  • Bob's father has just been diagnosed with cancer. In an effort to learn more about it, Bob visits cancer websites and posts several inquiries to a discussion group. A month later, Bob's insurance company informs him that he is no longer eligible for a certain rate given his "condition".

  • Mary is in the final stages of the interview process for a big job. Her employer decides to search the newsgroup archives using her name, and discovers that several years ago, she was keen on spreading her controversial political opinions. Mary is quietly passed over in favor of a less outspoken candidate.

  • Kayla gets a phone call from her credit card company: Did she purchase top-of-the-line stereo equipment and a Mercedes on the same day? The police eventually catch up to the thief, who gained access to her card number by exploiting a flaw in the shopping cart software at a popular online flower shop.

  • Rennie loves to chat online with other 12-year-olds. She knows she's not supposed to give out her address or phone number online, so she doesn't think anything of telling her chat friends that she's home by herself everyday from 4 to 6. Luckily, her Internet Service Provider refused to give out her parents' billing address to the man who called posing as her father.

  • Jean and Mario are visiting the capital of a developing country, and are shocked at the police brutality they witness during a demonstration. They post accounts of what they saw to a human rights website, and are promptly arrested.
*These examples are based on real-life cases.

Many companies are taking advantage of consumer concern for online privacy by providing so-called "identity and relationship management" services. They ask you to fill out forms with ALL your personal information, and then hand out pieces of it to partner merchant sites. Only you have no control over what happens to your personal info once it's been transferred to the merchant. This is the opposite of privacy.


ICS Internet recognizes that our customers are concerned about online privacy. To address these concerns, we recommend the Sygate Firewall, Avast Antivirus, Spywareblaster and SpyBot Search and Destroy.

PacketStorm Security Site

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