World Online Exclusive: Spinning the Web - Online privacy serious business; Part Two

Well folks, in my last column I promised to report on my successes implementing some of the privacy and security tools I had mentioned in that opus and true to my word here's that report. It's not all roses.

First thing I did was download and install a personal firewall. I visited Zone Labs at http://www.zonelabs.com. From their products I opted to purchase and download ZoneAlarm Pro 3.0 which last week came bundled with a program called Pest Patrol (http://pestpatrol.com/) which does an initial scan for spyware before installing a firewall, and continues to protect against spyware afterward. This week it seems to come bundled with a similar package called Internet Cleanup.



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Pest Patrol found and helped me remove more than 250 tracking cookies that reported on my surfing activity to mysterious third parties, as well as about a half-dozen adware utilities.

Installation of the ZoneAlarm firewall was a breeze. This program basically reports on every attempt to either send or receive data over your Internet connection. When it connects it asks you to authorize the network you're connecting to, and every time you launch an application such as an e-mail client, Web browser, instant messenger, ftp client or telnet application it asks for authorization to allow the application to move data.

The program can remember your decisions, so once your initial configuration is done, you seldom receive alerts from the program again until you launch a new Internet application or some outside source attempts to access your computer. The major exception is the alert that pops up each time the program's cookie blocking lets you know that it's working.

I downloaded and ran Leak Test from http://grc.com/lt/leaktest.htm and it demonstrated fully the difference between having ZoneAlarm active or inactive, breeching my system when the firewall was off and being effectively blocked otherwise.

If you want to see tracking cookies in action you should try the demo at http://privacy.net/track/. With ZoneAlarm's cookie management disabled I was able to visit several of the dummy links in the demo and then I was shown a complete history of that activity. With ZoneAlarm's features enabled, the site was unable to track my movements.

One of the best things about using ZoneAlarm is the ad management tools it includes. I haven't seen one single "pop under" ad since deploying my firewall.

I also promised to discuss PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption software and my experiences with it. Foolishly following advice that the latest freeware version of PGP would work fine with Windows XP if I disabled the features pertaining to Microsoft Outlook, I went ahead and downloaded it from http://www.pgpi.org and installed it.

I did so spite of the fact there is strictly speaking, no version for XP. This proved to be disastrous as I'm still trying to recover completely from the system crash that ensued. Let me just praise Microsoft for the system restore feature built into XP, for without it I'd be writing this column on a clay tablet or an old Smith Corona.

Perhaps it's for the best, since while PGP is an effective means of encrypting e-mail and other files, keeping them secure from prying eyes, it's rather complex and cumbersome to use. It requires the generation of public and private keys to lock and unlock files and key servers to assist in the distribution of your public keys and proper signing of keys to verify their authenticity and�oh heck�I lost you there didn't I?

A call to action

I'd like to change the subject now and discuss something I came across while researching my previous column. Among the organizations advocating on behalf of users of computers, the Internet and other information technologies the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) stands out.

In addition to the far-reaching implications to personal privacy that all this quickly advancing technology carries with it, there must be increased attention paid to such issues as copyright, fair use, constitutional guarantees of free expression.

Formed in 1990 by former president of Lotus Development Systems; Mitch Kapor, John Gilmore previously an employee of Sun Microsystems, and Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow, EFF was founded to fill the void that existed owing to other civil liberties organizations inability to confront threats in the realm of high tech electronic communications.

Today, EFF is an effective advocate for our interests as citizens and users of technology. Visiting http://www.eff.org is a good way to see what EFF is up to and to see how you can make use of their tools to speak up for your own rights.

A recent visit to their site prompted calls to action regarding one potentially disastrous piece of legislation introduced in Congress back in April, and one astounding expression of corporate hubris.

In the former, Sen. Ernest Hollings at the behest of Hollywood entertainment interests has introduced the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA), which if past may among other things, make it impossible to play CDs on your computer or create legal, digital copies of music that you own for your own, personal use. This isn't how fair use of copyright materials is supposed to work. For a humorous look at this issue be sure to have a look at the "Tinsel Town Club" video at http://action.eff.org/tinseltown/ , then you can use the tools right there on the site to tell your elected representatives what you think about this.

In the latter matter, you can read about and respond to statements made by Turner Broadcasting CEO Jamie Kellner in the April 29, 2002, issue of Cableworld magazine.

There, he shared the belief that viewers of advertiser-supported television have entered into a contract with broadcasters that is breeched when audience members fail to stay put and watch commercials. In a striking expression of generosity, Kellner allows that he has "a certain amount of tolerance" for people that need to use the bathroom during commercial breaks in the programming. You can use the tools on the EFF site to express your gratitude to Mr. Kellner.

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