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The Cost of Privacy

But as with any advancement, some sacrifices must be made. One sacrifice we seem to be making for an Internet-ready lifestyle is our privacy. With each new piece of technology we use—whether it's online banking or wireless Web surfing via cell phones—some bit about ourselves is given to the corporations and mass marketers. For each access point in technology, such as cell phone usage, online grocery shopping, stock trading, reading online newspapers, information about you is being compiled. Your credit card information is stored among numerous companies if you are at all into online shopping or even bill payments. Trading information about consumers has spawned a new field of businesses. Companies are dedicated to just compiling consumer information and reselling it to the next bidder. And this type of business is not illegal. Consumers are making both a conscious and an unconscious decision to trade their private information for the convenience that comes with new technology.

The question of how private we really are can be broken down into two areas of weakness: server side and client side (see Figure 1.2). Server-side privacy refers to the storage of consumer information on corporate servers or the vastness of cyberspace. This encompasses the data gathering done by companies you voluntarily give your information to, such as when you buy a product. When you buy a product, a company has information about where you live, your credit information, and what your product preferences are and can start building your profile. When you complete a purchase, you usually have an option to be added to the company's e-mail list. Whether you opt into the e-mail list or not, they can still target you for future marketing and sell your information to others. One such example is the TiVo recorder, a sophisticated VCR-type device used to record television shows. It can be accessed remotely. Information collected about consumer preferences was going to be resold to advertisers, although the company said individual user preferences would not be divulged. TiVo defended its practices by saying names of subscribers were stripped from the data. TiVo-collected data has not yet been resold. Simple technologies such as TiVo are capturing your information and compiling statistics on you.


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