Can Privacy Survive in the Cyber-Age?

The World Wide Web is an advertiser's dream come true.

No longer does he (or she) have to pay for ads which will be seen by people who are mostly not going to be interested in what he has to sell or who have just purchased his competitor's product. Say the advertiser is in the dog food business. He buys ads at dog-related Web sites which will be seen by people who either own (presumably hungry) dogs or who are at least interested in information about dogs (and may own a dog in the future). In contrast, the advertiser's expensive TV commercials are seen by people who do not own dogs (as well as those who do) and by people who hate dogs!

Webmasters often ask surfers to "register" at their site. The personal information gathered about people who want access to the site could conceivably be sold as an email mailing list to potential advertisers. Even Web sites that do not ask for voluntary information often keep track of who has visited their site via Internet "cookies".

But suppose that I visit a dog Web page and don't want my landlord (or my nosy neighbors) or even my boss to know I have a dog?

There is precious little privacy left in the Cyber-Age. Anyone not spending hard currency leaves tracks in their various debit card & credit card electronic transactions. There are records of one's spending at grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants, magazine subscriptions, newspaper subscriptions, and what cable TV channels one pays for monthly, just to mention a few. Caller ID identifies phone callers without even requiring one to answer the phone. This type of information (i.e. demographics) enables advertisers to more tightly market their wares to increase their odds of reaching interested customers.

Web site registrations are only advertisers' newest tools. Fortunately, not every Web site requires registration (free or not) yet. So surfers can choose to register or choose to browse another site which does not register users. This may be less and less true in the future if more and more Web sites go to mandatory registration. It is also true that one may surf the World Wide Web from public computers (such as at cyber cafes, schools, and public libraries) if one wanted to maximize privacy. Such public computers plus free wi-fi (wireless Internet connecton) for your laptop may become more and more available in the future.

For more information see:

  • Center for Democracy and Technology Privacy Issues
  • Electronic Privacy Information Center
  • Privacy Policy (Federal Trade Commission)
  • Online Privacy Alliance
  • Complying with COPPA: Frequently Asked Questions [aka Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule] (Federal Trade Commission)
  • Anonymizer
  • SafeShopping.org (American Bar Assn.)
  • *Protecting Children’s Privacy Online – A Guide for Parents, Carers and Educators [*NOTE: This is a British site. But it shows how to set privacy settings for the most popular apps, used widely in both the U.K. and the U.S. Screenshot graphics are helpful.]
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    Last Modified: 11/30/2016