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Who's watching you shop?

If you like to buy clothes online, don't be surprised if the next time you shop, the Web site already knows your measurements. E-tailers are becoming bolder at tracking personal information.

Many sites have created "user profiles" that contain their customers' personal data - e-mail addresses, book-buying habits, and clothing sizes. Internet companies say the information helps them tailor content to customers. But many consumers disagree. A survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project of more than 2,000 Americans found that only 27 percent of Internet users accept the industry claim that tracking is helpful. Still, 54 percent of Americans are willing to give Web sites personal information in return for content.

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A recent policy negotiated by the Clinton administration, the Federal Trade Commission, and several Web sites gives dotcoms the right to track customers unless users take steps to "opt out" of being monitored. But most Americans (86 percent) say they would prefer "opt in" policies that would require Internet companies to ask permission before they disclose personal information.

The most recent case of an alleged privacy breach involves last week's class-action lawsuit filed against Toys "R" Us. Lawyers claim the toy store's Web site violated federal law and its own privacy policy by failing to disclose that it was sharing customers' personal information with Coremetrics, a data- analysis firm. Coremetrics says it was analyzing customers' online behavior.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society