As a webmaster one of the issues I am faced with is online privacy. Popular media would have you believe that it needs to be protected, but no one really defines what IT really is. At the most basic level, online privacy means that personal identifiable information must not be logged, stored, or distributed. As a webmaster and owner of a web site, tracking my site’s traffic is very important. A server’s access logs can only track an IP address and some information in regards to the browser that a person used to access the site. Although an IP address can lead back to an ISP, without that ISP’s willing cooperation (and access to their logs), a webmaster cannot really track the actual computer, let alone the person who actually visited their site. An IP address alone narrows down perhaps what ISP was used, but after that, the bread crumbs stop.
Losing Your Privacy
Many sites implement cookies, which allow the site to store and retrieve information from your computer. This information is usually basic login information or in the case of forums, what posts you have read or responded to. Marketing companies love cookies because they can use them to build profiles of what sites you like to visit and what interests you. They use this information to sell you more products and to figure out what party candidate you most likely would vote for. If you think this is invading your privacy, consider your ATM card which not only identifies you personally every time you use it, but can be used to track your whereabouts, based on where you used it last!
Today’s sites no longer ask you to store cookies for them, they simply do it. Most Terms of Service Agreements, (you know those pages you never read on any sites you go to), will always include some sort of consent statement. It usually states that by using services on their site, you are consenting to the site storing or even divulging some of the personal information that they will be tracking. Many sites, even commercial ones, will market out your email address and reward your consent with spam email for months to come.
Enter the single click web site, which revolutionized internet shopping by allowing site users to click once to purchase an item and not even have to enter any credit card information, because the site already had everything on file for you. Convenience led to massive privacy invasion with your consent of course. A worse case scenario is that perhaps your favorite online store messed up their accounting and charged you less for a purchase, and three months later they decide to correct their mistake and automatically charge your credit card. Of course you could complain and try to save yourself the charges, but all of this requires time, time which costs you too. In the end you have given up significant control for the convenience of one-click shopping.