Beware "digital tattoos" while browsing

The Obama administration has unveiled what it calls a "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights" - new guidelines for Internet security.

The goal is to give people more control over the way personal information is gathered online by companies such as Facebook, Google and Apple and shared with other companies. It would also enable individuals to access and change data gathered about them.

Can the guidelines, which would be voluntary at first, work?

Assistant Professor Jeffrey Hancock, PhD., who heads Cornell's Information Science Department and studies how the Internet affects the way we communicate, spoke to the "CBS This Morning" co-hosts about what the guidelines could mean for Web users.

He said, "We're gonna have more options to be able to control the kind of information that we leave behind. Every time we click on a computer, we're leaving some information around."

He added that, "The idea is to create a one-click button that would allow us to not be tracked for that session of browsing or whatever we're doing."

But is anything ever really totally private on the Internet? Hancock says in most cases, no.

"I like to think of everything we do online as digital tattoos," he said. "Everything we do, say, on Facebook is going to stay there. It's actually very, very difficult to delete things. They're on a number of servers, Facebook servers. If some of my friends have downloaded that, there's a copy everywhere. If you think of any politician who'd been in a (recent) scandal, it's because of a digital tattoo, typically.

"What I like to say to people is to be really careful when thinking about what they're doing online. Not that it's a scary thing. But to just think a little bit. We wouldn't tell a stranger on the street a bunch of stuff about, say, my religion or whether I'm married or not. But we do that sort of thing online all the time.

"That's what the 'Bill of Rights' is about - making people think, 'OK, people have my back. I can go shopping (online) and feel comfortable about that.'"

To see the entire discussion with Hancock, click on the video in the player above.

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