Select Internet Privacy Issues for the Business Lawyer, Including Website Privacy Policies
September 2003

As e-commerce grows, so, too, grows the concern over how personal information is gathered, used and protected on the Internet. For instance, cookies, small files stored on the hard drive of the user’s computer, silently gather information which uniquely identifies the user to specific Web sites, often without the user’s knowledge. The electronic footprints created by cookies when a Web user moves about in cyberspace, commonly called a “clickstream,” can be monitored, recorded and “mined” for information and used to profile a Web user or to recreate the user’s online experience. This information may be gathered by online advertisers and merchants (who compile data for hints about consumer preferences, or to target Internet advertising), Internet Service Providers (who can precisely monitor and record an entire clickstream, since all of the user's online commands are sent through the ISP), government, private investigators (who may be acting on behalf of employers or other private parties looking for information that has not been volunteered, including evidence of wrongdoing), and the news media. Bugs (small graphic images files embedded in a web page) and bots (intelligent personal profile agents) are similar to cookies and are also of concern because of their ability to gather, use, and share personal information. In addition, new technologies permit hackers to invade your computer, scan for anything and everything on its memory drives, and even to set up phantom operations, unbeknownst to you, from your computer.

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