By Chris Barts
When going to the store, you expect to be at once anonymous and known. You want to be anonymous enough not to have your purchases tracked from store to store, but you want to be known enough for a clerk to perhaps suggest an item. You regularly have it both ways in the physical world. You should be able to have it both ways in the digital one as well.
To begin, I should explain the concept of communications online. Everything sent in any kind of network is sent in what's known as a packet. Like a piece of mail, a packet contains information. Packets contain information coded in numerical form, translated from the digital pulses of computers to the tone-based code of the phone company's machines when sent online, and are readily interpreted by the receiving machine. Most packets sent through the internet aren't private at all. They can also be traced back to where they were sent from easily. Most times, this isn't a problem. Most companies and most people really don't care too much about the private lives of those who view their web pages. But there are a few notable offenders.
Another privacy issue is centered around how we pay for things bought online. Credit cards aren't the most private way of doing anything, but there isn't any real option online. The danger with credit cards lies not in someone learning your number without your permission. The danger lies in what the companies you give the information to does with the data. Many sites have features that benignly store your number in a secure way to save you the trouble of typing it in every time. But there are always a few who use that information you don't want floating around. Informed consent is again the answer. Online commerce will increase real wealth globally by reducing the costs of doing business. Wealth spreads best in an informed globe.