When you're on the Internet, you're in a global marketplace stocked with products and services. But the Internet's major currency is information. You seek it from others. Others seek it from you. Marketers, in particular, want to know as much about you and your buying habits as you are willing to tell.
Since some information may be quite personal, you'll want to know how it is gathered, how it is used, and occasionally abused. Just as you might carry cash in a secret pouch when you go abroad, you may want to protect certain information when you go online.
Information is gathered on the Internet both directly and indirectly. When you enter a chat room discussion, leave a message on a bulletin board, register with a commercial site, enter a contest, or order a product, you directly and knowingly send information into Cyberspace. Often, a Web site may require information from you as the "toll" you pay to enter.
Data also can be gathered indirectly, without your knowledge. For example, your travels around a Web site can be tracked by a file called a "cookie" left on your computer's hard drive on your first visit to that site. When you revisit the site, it will open the cookie file and access the stored information so it will know how to greet you. You may even be welcomed by name. If you linger over a product or a subject that interests you, it will be noted. And soon, you may see ads on the site that look as if they've been custom tailored for you. As Web sites gather information directly and indirectly, they can collect a complete data picture of you and your family. This kind of information is valuable to marketers because it helps them target their sales efforts.
It's difficult to be anonymous once you're on the Internet. Expect to receive unsolicited advertising e-mail, even personalized ads that seem to know you. This junk e-mail "spam" can be a nuisance, even a scam. If it looks questionable, simply delete it. Check with your ISP or online service for ways to limit unsolicited e-mail.
As anywhere, the Internet has its share of "snoopers" and con men. Guard your password. It's the key to your account. People who work for your service provider should never request your password. If they do, refuse the request and report the incident to your service provider immediately.
Concerns about loss of privacy are not new. But the computer's ability to gather and sort vast amounts of data -- and the Internet's ability to distribute it globally -- magnify those concerns.
To a large extent, privacy is up to you when you enter a Web site. Look for a privacy statement. Sites that are most sensitive to your privacy concerns not only have privacy policies, but also display them clearly and conspicuously, offer you a choice to share your personal information or restrict its use, and explain how your information will be used.
Hope this information helped you in a little way to enlighten yourself.