Many of us think of the Internet as a place to find valuable, free information. But with marketers tracking our every mouse click and sites prying for personal information, some say we're paying a high price when it comes to personal privacy.
"Interest in electronic privacy has reached new heights because of the lack of safeguards in place," says Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest research group in Washington, DC. "Both the technology and law have lagged behind."
One controversial way sites can spy on you is through "cookies," or small files that some Web sites upload to your computer to track your movements once you connect to their sites. Companies also routinely use Web information they've gleaned from users for direct-marketing.
To protect yourself, decide where you draw the line when offering information online. Be wary of registration procedures that ask for personal data, and avoid sites you deem intrusive. You can also disable the cookie settings in your browser; visit ,a href=http://www.luckman.com>http://www.luckman.com and get a free "anonymous cookie," a program that disables all cookies in your browser's cookie directory or file.
Privacy advocates are calling for companies to post their privacy policies explaining why they're collecting the data. Several states are also considering implementing electronic privacy laws that could offer added protection.