Use of cookie blockers
Short of turning off your computer, there are a number of options available to the on-line surfer that will insure your privacy is not wiped out when manuvering out on the information superhighway.
Many personal computers that use Internet browsers such as Netcape and Explorer have a built-in cookie disabler. However, this feature must be activated by the individual user. A step-by-step primer is available on-line at Junkbuster's.com, a privacy advocate group.
There are additional freeware and software cookie disabling programs including WebWasher, Cookie Pal, AdSubtract SE, Cookie Crusher and Complete Cleanup. Detailed program descriptions are available on-line from PCWorld at: http://www.cnn.com/2001/TECH/ptech/03/20/cookie.managers/idg/index.html.
Fighting fire with firewalls
Firewalls are another option to maintain privacy, not only from data-gathering companies, but from hackers as well. A "firewall" is computer slang for software and hardware programs that protect individual as well as inter-connected systems from receiving unsolicited queries. Businesses also use firewalls as a way to monitor and control their employee's on-line surfing activities. While firewalls were once commonly reserved for use by large corporations and companies, cheaper and in some cases, free programs are making firewalls a good addition to individual systems.
For web users with a DSL or broadband connection, a firewall may be as essential as a monitor or keyboard. According to an article in the April 19, 2001 issue of the on-line New York Times, "Broadband users are more vulnerable to attacks because their 'always on' connections mean that their computers are out there as potential targets for many more hours a day.
The hard and soft of it
According to the Times, the new Mac OS X and the soon to be released Microsoft XP have firewalls built into their operating systems. However, there are software programs such as Norton Personal Firewall 2001, ZoneAlarm 2.1 by Zone Labs and BlackIce Defender by Network Ice, McAfee Personal Firewall, and Sphinx PC Firewall, by Biodata that are designed to supplement existing operating systems. In some cases, Internet service providers may provide free downloadable versions to their subscribers.
There's an added bonus to installing firewall hardware on a personal system. In addition to the security and peace of mind that may come with physically installing firewall hardware on a personal system, the addition can hook several computers to a single Internet connection. Some versions such as Linksys BEFW11S4 and D-Link's DI-713 provide wireless connections, cutting down on the number of required cords and lines.
Practicing Safe Surfing
Another way to prevent companies from gathering data is to silently surf the 'Net. Several manufacturers are now offering shareware or software that essentially makes the user invisible. For example, MyPrivateplanet claims that with the use of their bundled privacy services, "You will leave no footprints in the sand and no personal information to be shared by others."
Another manufacturer is producing a "virtual shredder," which prevents tracking devices from picking through deleted electronic files on Macintosh systems.
Looking for the privacy label
If controlling the release of personal information is important to you, look for
the privacy label and read the fine print. "I tell consumers all the time, when you
of the Online Privacy Alliance. "If you can't find one, don't shop there. And, when you
find one, exercise your choice. If you don't want your information shared, say no."