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How they figure out who is a "live" one

An Introduction to Internet/Computer Privacy Invasion
Commentary by Richard Pitt

My friend David Ingram sent me an e-mail yesterday (Dec. 28) to which I replied, including the original message. He phoned me a few minutes later and asked whether I'd actually seen the image he'd sent me in the original e-mail as it was not in the reply.

I explained to him that, since the form of the original e-mail was from a web site and all he'd done is tell them who to send it to, the image was not in the message - it came from the original web site. My e-mail software strips HTML image URLs and simply puts "[image]" into such replies. The original had come from a web site he had been visiting - "Email to friend" (along with a brief explanation - they even make it look like it came from you.)

I also said that because my system knew who the mail was from (his e-mail address) I did in fact see the picture and the rest of the graphics, but if the From address had not been one I'd saved in my "Contact" list, I probably would not have seen them as I had set my mail software to not load remote links in HTML mail in such a case. While David's been using e-mail since the early 80s, he didn't realize that the fact that I'd viewed e-mail could be tracked by the original web site.

This got us to talking about all the various ways the "bad uglies" out there take advantage of unsuspecting people to track and analyze who does what, and whether their techniques are working. Since I'd sent out a "rant" about electronic greeting cards to my Christmas e-mail list this year about a similar problem, he asked me to write this column for his CEN-TAPEDE newsletter. I'm going to concentrate on the "legitimate" businesses in this article; the ones that are household names or part of legitimate physical businesses. These include "free" e-mail sites, greeting cards, search engines, information sources (newspapers, magazines, etc.) and your favourite e-mail lists, as a short but by no means exhaustive list of candidates.

Some of what I'll discuss is not just about the Internet - it is about the use of computers in general to track what you do, what you purchase, where you go, etc. Some of the discussion may split off into a separate article but for now, here it is.

It is even more appropriate to talk of this subject now since as of January 1, 2004, Canada has a new privacy law that applies to the subjects we're discussing.

It's OK to not really understand how the Internet does its stuff. Most people have only a vague idea of the technologies that go into the modern automobile - and that technology has been evolving for over 100 years. The public Internet has only been evolving for about 10 years, but already it is so complex that even those of us who have been in and around it since the beginning are sometimes stunned by the things others are doing with it (and to the viewer). In parallel, the general computer revolution has compounded the complexity; giving small organizations the power to capture information and use it in ways that even large corporations 20 years ago only dreamed of.

In this article I'll try to shed some light on what these revolutionary technologies mean to you and me in our need to protect the privacy in our personal lives.

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