Aureate Media is Watching You
Look out! Spies are extracting personal info from your hard drive and selling it to evil communist corporations!
Okay, maybe not. Still, security concerns have lagged behind the incredibly quick adoption of Internet connectivity. The vast majority of us sign up with no thought to the idea of being hacked, if we are aware of the possibility at all.
Similar concerns have arisen in response to the supposed privacy intrusions of the evil cookie, widely used to store web site information on your hard drive for various purposes, such as login details for online shopping. There are, of course, at least two opinions on whether cookies are a positive or negative development for the general web surfer. According to the Netscape cookie specification:
"This simple mechanism provides a powerful new tool which enables a host of new types of applications to be written for web-based environments. Shopping applications can now store information about the currently selected items, for fee services can send back registration information and free the client from retyping a user-id on next connection, sites can store per-user preferences on the client, and have the client supply those preferences every time that site is connected to."
Junkbusters.com declares unequivocally that cookies are a menace to Internet privacy. Their site contains a huge amount of information covering how to ensure privacy at home and on the Internet, with links to more resources. The cookie issue has been hashed and rehashed, and debate on the subject is easy to find. I suggest the junkbusters homepage as a starting point, with cookie-specific coverage here. The latter explains how to disable cookies for those using Netscape or Internet Explorer. A quick search will also give the curious more than enough rival opinions on whether Internet cookies are a convenient tool, or just the beginnings of a world-wide plot to allow marketing firms to build individual profiles on our shopping habits.
This brings us to a more recent development that has raised new concerns. Many software authors have begun to rely on so-called adware, probably to combat the dismal percentage of those who actually purchase the shareware they have downloaded (Note to self: remember to register copy of WinZip). Adware works on a very simple principle. The program displays an ad banner whenever it is running, the banner space is sold to advertisers, and everyone wins. This concept has also been adapted for free ISPs that display an ad bar in return for a cost-free Internet connection (for example AltaVista's offering), and for services such as AllAdvantage, that simply pay you for displaying ads on your monitor while you surf the web.