YOU ARE BEING WATCHED............
by Doug Bedell
It's getting harder to remain a nobody on the Internet.
Out there on the Web, increasingly sophisticated tools are being used by sites and marketers to track visitor movements. Back at the office about a third of online workers, more than 27 million, have their Internet or email use under continuous surveillance, the Privacy Foundation estimates.
"The Internet is the most surveillance-friendly environment there is," says Bill Unrue, chief executive officer of Anonymizer.com.
It seems American want the presumption of privacy online, but research by Pew Internet and American Project suggests "a great many Internet users do not know the basics of how their online activities are observed, and they do not use available tools to protect themselves."
Pew researchers point out that most people never have a harmful experience online. But computer invasions are often more subtle than ringing phones but far more intrusive, computer experts say.
And in the workplace, job hunters may find employers are documenting visits to destinations such as Monster.com. Or they may be inspecting any communication with domains of competitors.
There are free services such as The-cloak.com, still available on the Net, but most are now fee-based.
Fee-based and free applications work essentially the same way. Commands and communication from your computer terminal are routed through proxy servers. Your identifying Internet address is altered. The Web page is channeled back to you for viewing, but with a fake identity sent to the Web server.
Within that process other privacy-related wals can be added. The best services are sold by a dwindling set of companies.
Anonymizer Private Surfing 2, a $29-a-year privacy service lets you surf without giving away personal information to nosy Web sites. Users interested in even higher security can pay $99 annually to route all of their Internet communications through Anonymizer.
By creating a private network between a customer's PC and its servers, Anonymizer offers complete encrypted delivery of all email and instant messages.
Zero-Knowledge has Freedom WebSecure service priced at $59.95 for a one-year subscription for consumers.
In the old days users of both these services had to log on to Web sites to activate the service. Now, both Zero-Knowledge and Anonymizer can be triggered from the tool bar.
Probably neither software package is foolproof. Web tracking, filtering and surveillance mechanisms grow more elaborate daily. Anonymizer's technicians repaired 10 reported software flaws within two days, the programmers say. Meanwhile 8e6 Technologies of Orange, Calif., used by libraries, schools, and corporations, can thwart use of Private Surfing 2.0.
Anonymizer says it has a subscriber base of 500,000, and its leaders expect sales to climb as Internet users, both corporate and consumer, grown more educated on privacy issues.
Unrue likens Web browsing these days to leaving the window shades open at night.
"People can see everything you're doing," he says, "That's exactly the way it is online. Everything's being tracked today."