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Private eyes are watching you (surf the Web)

Commercial tracking software often secretly records where users go on the Internet. If businesses don't set their own clear, simple privacy standards, government may need to step in with a 'do not track' option.

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The ease and speed with which people can share information over the Internet is perhaps the marvel of this era. The way they live and work is changing rapidly, posing new opportunities and new hazards.

One area undergoing massive change is personal privacy. Fluid exchanges of information mean that more knowledge about people’s lives can be shared than they realize or desire. Facebook and Google are two Web giants that have recently faced criticism for playing fast and loose with information about their users.

A significant number of apps – small software applications that users download onto their iPhones or other smart phones – have been shown to be surreptitiously collecting information on their users, such as the person’s location or their list of contacts.

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia say they will curtail the use of BlackBerry phones for the opposite reason – their texts and e-mails are encrypted and difficult to intercept and decipher. The UAE claims this privacy feature is a threat to its national security.

The development of computerized data banks – such as those storing credit-card information, medical records, or store “loyalty card” buying habits – continues to erode personal privacy.

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