Why You Should Care About Privacy on the Web

Protecting your private information on the internet is very important but also requires active participation on your part. Here's some advice on how to maintain your privacy.

Privacy, a safe, serene and cozy concept, has become a flashpoint in Cyberspace. A lot of reputable sites and the government want to make sure that information about you is safe and private, will not be sold for profit without your permission, and will not be used illegally or unethically.

While that’s reassuring, prevention of unauthorized information sharing can’t be truly effective without your active participation and vigilance. Not only do you need to understand privacy on the Web, you should insist upon it before providing any information about yourself – especially your Social Security number.

It hasn’t always been that way. Old time Web heads like me remember very little about the Web that was private in the early days. It was a sharing, nurturing environment in which the greater good of the Internet was paramount. There were very few rules, but those established were rock solid: Do nothing to endanger bandwidth; send no unsolicited e-mail; and, have respect for other netizens.

Fast forward to 1995 and 1996. With well-meaning and ethical companies setting up cybershops came the hucksters who saw myriad opportunities to separate the na_ve from their bucks. Much of the fraud they perpetrated came in the guise of legitimate-appearing, but unsolicited, e-mail.

As more and more companies began to sell their wares online, more and more trusting souls began to use the Web to buy just about anything.

Many sites required a user name – unimportant unless that name also was the e-mail address, but often sites encouraged a visitor to use his or her e-mail address as their user name to make it easier to remember. This was stored on a server.

At the same time, other demographic data, needed to consummate sales, began to flood into burgeoning databases. As a result, those databases became gold mines, and the inevitable happened. Personal and private information began to show up in all sorts of places, none of which were authorized by the people providing that information.

Alarmed by this and a growing criminal element that stole other people’s identities – especially the identities of those who had provided Social Security numbers online – respectable online merchants began to write up “privacy statements.” They did it for legal reasons, and to let site visitors know that e-mail addresses and other demographic data would not be shared with anyone without the permission of the e-mail address holder.

Of course, a privacy statement isn’t a guarantee that your information won’t be sold. It’s up to you to protect yourself. When you cybershop, stick to buying from reputable Web sites. If you find a site that offers the products you want, but the company owning that site doesn’t have a well-known reputation on or off the Web, check very carefully. Be sure there is a privacy statement (it’s also called privacy policy) before you provide any information. Make sure that it specifically says that no information about you will be shared with or sold to anyone else. If you don’t see a privacy statement, or if you have other reservations, think twice about shopping there.

You can learn lots more about privacy at such sites as, www.dis.org/erehwon/anonymity.html, www.privacy.org, and www.privacyinc.com, among others.

We used to be able to trust that the information we exchanged on the Web was sacrosanct, but those days are long gone. Think smart, use common sense and you won’t become a victim.

Editorial note: MoreBusiness.com maintains and adheres to a strict privacy policy. See the home page for details.

Article – Copyright 2000 James H. Hyde. Syndicated by ParadigmTSA

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