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Home > Privacy and Business > Online Privacy > Protecting Privacy Online

Protecting Privacy Online

The majority of Americans aged 30 and over suffer significant ignorance of how personal information may be released online. It is important to know, for example, that a person who clicks on a link and requests a Web page is giving out a numeric code (known as an IP address) to identify his or her computer to another computer (a server). There is no other way for a server to know where to send information. There are many other examples that are much more complex. As surely as the sun rises and sets, however, our ignorance is on the wane. Younger, computer-literate generations already laugh at older Americans’ ignorance and fear of how information moves online.

The key to protecting privacy is knowing how to protect personal information. Participation in online culture is just like participation in any culture. It comes with responsibilities. Individuals who are concerned about their online privacy are obliged to learn how they share personal information online, and to take actions to protect personal information online. Businesses that collect personal information have a corresponding obligation – if they want to succeed – to inform consumers about their information practices and make sure that users are comfortable with them. Businesses and consumers are in the process of developing cultural understandings about how personal information shared online may be used. This is the only way to have a diverse, robust online culture, where each consumer maintains the level of privacy he or she wants and deserves.

Information does have value and, for people outside the mainstream, there may be high costs for declining to participate in the information economy. For example, someone who is uncomfortable sharing his or her address or credit card number will not be able to enjoy the convenience of shopping online. Individuals are entitled to make these choices. As wonderful and exciting as the Internet is, not everyone needs to use it to enjoy a fulfilling and entirely successful life.


The Reinvention of Privacy, by Toby Lester, The Atlantic Montly (March, 2001)

Know the Rules, Use the Tools: Privacy in the Digital Age: A Resource for Internet Users Senator Orin G. Hatch, Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee.

Privacy and Technology: Getting the Balance Right, Mass Insight Corporation (September 2000)

Privacy and the Beauty of Capitalism by Jason M. Thomas, Citizens for a Sound Economy (July 20, 2000)

Protecting Privacy on the Internet by Jessica Melugin, Competitive Enterprise Institute (July 5, 2000)

Privacy: While Legislators Debate, Others Innovate by Jason M. Thomas, Citizens for a Sound Economy (June 22, 2000)

Tips and Tricks for Maintaining Your Privacy Online, by Charles Jennings and Lori Fena,

Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property, Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives, Jonathan Zuck, President, Association for Competitive Technology (May 18, 2000)

The Disappearing Problem of Online Privacy by Jessica Melugin, Competitive Enterprise Institute (April 3, 2000)

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[updated 04/07/04]

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