Congress releases on-line privacy manual

By: Thomas C Greene in Washington
Posted: 21/09/2000 at 22:05 GMT

Unsure how on-line businesses track you and how you can thwart them?
A bit foggy on re-mailers, identity managers, permission marketing,
proxies, encryption? Well you wouldn't be alone. A new Congressional
guide to privacy notes that among heavy Internet users a full twelve per
cent don't even understand what a cookie does; and these ubiquitous
little items are only the most basic weapons in the commercial
privacy-busting arsenal. 

Thus the US Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by political
heavyweight Orrin Hatch (Republican, Utah), has laid it all out in
remarkable detail in a new guide entitled "Know the Rules, Use the
". It's a good primer for those who don't know how to protect their
on-line privacy with the tools already available. 

"Companies are able, because of recent technological advances, to
collect a vast amount of personally identifiable information about online
consumers, often without that consumer's knowledge or consent," the
authors observe. 

So the guide includes detailed instructions for disabling cookies in both
Netscape and M$ Internet Exploder, and how to set options to be notified
of attempts to drop one on your HDD. 

Additional applications to remove existing cookies and manage their
future accumulation, such as IEClean, AdSubtract, Cookie Jar,
Junkbuster Proxy, Cookie Cruncher, Cookie Manager, and Privacy
Companion, are also discussed individually and thoroughly. 

Your personal information is a valuable commodity to on-line ad-agency
voyeurs, so why not make the perverts pay for it? The guide therefore
details permission marketing, a scheme whereby surfers can obtain
something of use to them in exchange for their profiles. "YesMail 77 and
Brodia 78 are examples of permission marketing that provides the
consumer with certain benefits in exchange for profile information," the
report explains. 

The guide also details the workings of identity scrubbers such as
PrivadaControl, Incogno SafeZone,, ZeroKnowledge
Freedom, and AT&T's Crowds, again with individual attention to the
differences in function and features among them. 

Some attention is given to impermanent e-mail; and a list of privacy
resource sites such as the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC)
and the Centre for Democracy and Technology (CDT) is included. 

Overall, the guide is a useful primer for the doubtful surfer, but a doomed
effort by Congress to skirt privacy legislation, which a large number of
voters support. Members are torn between giving Hoi Polloi what it
demands, and legislatively hobbling the digital Golden Goose. 

It would be fair to note that if Netizens knew what tools already exist to
thwart commercial snooping, and used them, there would be no need for
privacy legislation. This is clearly what the Committee is trying to say by
releasing the guide; but we still have something of an immense 'IF' here. 

Few people have the interest, or the time, to educate themselves in the
black art of anonymous Web use; and while that would require no more
effort than mobilising Congress, human nature being what it is, we can
expect the latter. It's a lesson we learn in the nursery: it may require
more energy to wheedle Nanny into wiping our bottoms than it would to
do it ourselves, but it is, strangely, a good deal more satisfying. And of
course the more she hates doing it, the greater the satisfaction we

Download the guide by right-clicking HERE and selecting Save