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Fighting For Online Privacy

How safe are you on the Internet? Do you have any privacy? Is your email for your eyes only?

According to Parry Aftab, a lawyer who is the founder of CyberAngels, an online safety watchdog group, nothing is very private on the Internet.

She tells CBS This Morning that, to some extent, your privacy on the Internet depends on how much information you give out about yourself.



If you have ever registered your email address with online email directories, people can find you online. But, whether you give your real name and street address or just your email address, you are making that information available to 130 million people on the Internet.

If you use a particular online service, such as America Online, other users can find you based on your interests. For instance, if you register as a 35-year-old who is single and likes jazz, anyone who searches under "single" or "jazz" will be able to find you.

Also if you've ever given out your real name in a chat room, somebody can take that and go to another search site to try to find you offline.

Should you use only a screen name and not give any real personal data, your privacy is better protected. An online service like AOL will not disclose any information about you unless it is faced with a court order or some other type of legal justification.

When it comes to email, there is no privacy, especially on your business account. Your employer has the right to monitor conversations online. There is even less of a right to privacy in a public chat room.

"It's amazing what people will talk about in a public chat room," says Aftab. "It's as if they think they are having a completely private conversation. People take legal advice, psychological adviceÂ….People do stuff they would never do offline."

Children are protected under the Child On-Line Privacy Protection Act, which applies to kids under age 13. In the United States, it is against the law for Web sites to share any personal information from a child under 13 with a third party, unless there is parental approval. This should prevent children from being able to chat, from creating their own Web sites and from having access to instant messaging.

Web sites gather information for marketing uses, and they sell it to companies that will use it to target potential customers. This is one of their greatest sources of income, according to Aftab.

Can Web surfers ever protect their anonymity? Aftab recommends opening an account with www.anonymizer.com. For a fee of $5 per month, you can surf through this Web site, which scrambles all your contact with other sites. Even if you have already revealed personal information to a particular site, the Web site will not recognize you. The only records kept by anonymizer.com are for billing purposes, Aftab explains.

Aftab says her organization would like o hold all Web sites accountable in four areas:

  • Notice: With whom are the sites sharing information?
  • Consent: Users must agree to let Web sites give away their personal information.
  • Access: Allowing users to find out exactly what information the Web site has collected about them. This option must include a safeguard to ensure that only parents have such access to information about their children.
  • Security: Make sure Web sites are using proper measures to protect users from hackers and other unauthorized people.
Government agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have the right to interfere in certain cases. If you suspect you are being defrauded, contact the FTC at http://www.ftc.org. To report serious law enforcement problems, contact the FBI at http://www.fbi.org.

Aftab may be reached through the CyberAngels Web site at http://www.cyberangels.org.

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