Tips for Protecting Your Personal Privacy

Consumers are not the only ones involved in the fight for privacy in internet usage. A battle of policymakers and software makers as well as between self-regulation versus new legislation by Congress is taking place in Washington D.C. Ari Schwartz, a policy analyst for the Center for Democracy and Technology believes that the internet’s policy of self-regulation is important; however, there should be a baseline legislative standard. This would ensure that action could be taken in a uniform manner.

Laws are being introduced to make it possible for consumers to be fear-free. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass) introduced legislation to give web surfers broad rights to limit collection and use of their personal data over the ‘net. Also, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) recently changed his mind and supported an encryption bill called the PROTECT Act (CDT).

Some groups feel that the issue of privacy and the ‘net is being harmed by a conspiracy of the federal government. They feel that rather than running to the federal government for help, consumers should buy products that can protect them (TechWeb). For example, there is now software available that scans information going out of an individual’s computer and alerts him/her when it might reveal the identity. Privada has developed a way for consumers to make all of their ‘net transactions (email, web browsing, chat rooms, etc.) anonymous.

Many organizations are available for consumers to contact in the fight against revelation of private information. The ACLU, The Benton Foundation, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Media Access Project, People for the American Way, The Progress and Freedom Foundation, Society for Electronic Access, Voters Telecommunications Watch, and Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition. Most of these organizations are focus on promoting freedom of speech and anti-censorship issues, and then privacy topics. It is not a main focus of these sites; however, it is still an issue. A listing of such sites can be found here. Other listings can be found for city, state, and international organizations.

An important tip for consumers is to join groups that are pro-net protection. CDT is one such group. This site advocates information and education for web users. They provide “Action Alerts” which are periodic releases of developing privacy/net issues. The CDT also recommends being in contact with the Federal Communications Commission and the Executive Branch agencies of the government such as the Commerce Department or Congress.

Another place fed-up users can go is Junkbusters. Headed by Jason Catlett, Junkbusters is a site run by online privacy activists. It is a non-profit organization which seeks to protect the consumer. On the home page, tips are given as to how to boycott Pentium’s PSN. They give advice on prohibiting solicitation via junk mail and email junk mail, as well as ways to block unwanted advertising. Catlett reacted to the recent mistake by AT&T by commenting that companies use email for marketing tools, but still aren't knowledgeable enough to do it efficiently.

In the end, most of the responsibility for avoiding information on the net comes down to the consumer’s responsibility. Software companies and internet businesses are not prepared to take a firm step forward and protect its users. Many privacy organizations charge their consumers a fee for their service. Some believe it is worth it, some do not. Individuals must educate themselves enough to avoid gimmicks and scams, to take action and join prevention groups, to avoid putting personal information on the web at all costs, and most of all to be aware of the risks associated with internet usage.

The Crux of the Issue; Conclusions

Big Business is
Watching You...


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Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA).
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