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Privacy Concerns on the Internet

Advances in technology now allow Web site operators, advertisers, and others to intercept, collect, compile, and distribute personal information about users browsing the Internet. Every time individuals browse the Internet they leave a trail of electronic information along the way, and most Web sites employ a variety of devices to automatically gather this trail and analyze it, sometimes offering it for sale to third parties who may use the information for targeted marketing. Known as “clickstream data,” this information may include the user’s e-mail address, the type of computer, and the browsing software.

Information about a user’s activities may also be obtained through the use of Persistent Client-Side Hypertext Transfer Protocol files, commonly referred to as Internet “cookies.” A cookie is a small file generated by a Web server and stored on a user’s hard drive. Internet sites use cookies to count the users visiting their Web pages, and collect information about a user’s personal preferences based on the other sites they visit. Most Web browsers allow users to prevent cookies from being stored on their hard drives, though Internet sites can in turn deny access to users who block cookies from being deposited on their hard drives.

Privacy may also be compromised on the Internet by “hackers” who unlawfully intercept Web transmissions without authorization or consent. In the early days of the Internet it was far more common to hear reports of individuals breaking into commercial, governmental, academic, or private sites or transmissions for the purpose of stealing credit card numbers, social security numbers, phone numbers, pass-words, and other information that could facilitate a fraudulent scheme to make money. While such incidents still occur, encryption software is now widely deployed to keep hackers out. By and large, encryption software is effective. However, some experts predict that the next generation of computer viruses will allow hackers to take over control of infected operating systems from remote locations.

Inside Privacy Concerns on the Internet