Blocking applications can help protect your identity while surfing

You’re not paranoid. On the Internet, they are out to get you—or, at least,
find out who you are and what you do.


First it was client-side cookie spies. More recently came a public outcry about the new
Intel Pentium III processor’s automatic broadcast of an identification code. Some
cookies under development can even record Web addresses you’ve visited—something
that’s supposed to be impossible.


Government Web surfers are particularly sensitive about the tracks they leave, and many
of them want ways to control tracking mechanisms. Other users put up with being tracked
because, in a small way, it helps them see more of what interests them. Cookies also make
some pages load faster, though they slow others down.


If you consider tracking to be a gross invasion of privacy, here’s ammunition with
which to fight back.


One quick but far from perfect fix is to set your browser to reject cookies and to
disable Java applets and JavaScript functions. This kills most tracking functions, but the
downside comes when you visit password-protected sites and have to enter a password to
view each page. And you get no JavaScript enhancements such as mouse-over highlights,
ticker messages, and some pull-down and button functions.


A better approach is to add a security control panel to your PC.


The interMute package from Internet Mute Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., makes Web tracks
invisible. It not only deflects cookies, it locks out annoying referral ads, pop-up
windows and pages that automatically spawn other pages.


When I first installed interMute, it kept me from loading the auto-refresh news pages
that I visit throughout the day. But I spotted a tiny tool bar icon that toggles interMute
off and on.


I keep it off while visiting familiar places, but when I roam into new territory, the
shield goes up. A tool bar option keeps a running total of sites that tried and failed to
send cookies or special commands.


The best thing about interMute is that it doesn’t kill all cookies, and it
doesn’t force you to make a choice about every cookie offered. It’s the most
transparent solution I’ve seen. Download it from http://www.intermute.com
  for a two-week free trial or become a registered user for $19.95.


Another blocking program called Internet Junkbuster is downloadable for free from http://www.junkbuster.com.


Want to see something scary? Find out how vulnerable your client is by visiting http://www.consumer.net/Analyze/index.asp.
 


If everyone adopted filtering, would tracking go away? Of course not. It has a robust
future. The new Pentium III’s processor serial number could automatically identify it
to any site you visit. After public objections, Intel agreed to ship the chip with the
identity feature turned off. But electronic commerce sites may eventually require it to be
turned on, just as some sites won’t let you shop without cookies.


Visit http://www.bigbrotherinside.com/
for details.


Although everyone likes to surf anonymously, it doesn’t work for buying or for
personalized content delivery. What the Net needs is a quick-access, control-panel
approach for all interactions. You should be able to decide who gets access to your
individual information and who doesn’t.


Meanwhile, use built-in browser controls to limit tracking.  


Shawn P. McCarthy designs search and navigation products for a Web search engine
provider. E-mail him at smccarthy@lycos.com.

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