How to fight back against online snoops

By Michael Stroh


Although it is too early in this article to discuss exploding e-mail, suffice to say that crafty new techniques to protect your online privacy are about to make a bang.

And they are arriving not a moment too soon.

Studies show that privacy is one of our greatest fears when we wander the World Wide Web. And for good reason: Like bread crumbs in a forest, every mouse click in cyberspace leaves an electronic trail, revealing bits about our identity, geographical location and tastes.

Online merchants and marketers routinely collect this information using software tools that are widely available to operators of Web sites. As a result, others may know more about who we are and what we like than we realize - or want.

"We're starting to see the outlines of what could become a serious privacy problem," says David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. "The whole issue boils down to a consumer's control of data about them."

So what can you do to protect yourself?

Plenty. Even as online data collectors race to find out more about you, a growing number of start-up companies are swooping in to help you take control of your identity and fend off online snoops.

Of course, privacy advocates caution that the best protection is still common sense.

"All the technology in the world won't help you if you start giving out your password or e-mail address voluntarily," notes Lance Cottrell, chief executive officer of

But common sense can only do so much. That's why Cottrell's was one of the first Web sites to offer a technological solution to the dilemma of online privacy. does for your online correspondence and mouse trails what offshore banks do for cash: launders them by passing Web pages through its computers, scrubbing away every electronic trace of who you are or where you come from.

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