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Source: CNN.com

Posted on August 21, 2000

      The majority of U.S. Internet users feel their rights are infringed upon by companies that track them online, and 86 percent prefer an "opt in" policy that would require Web sites to seek permission from users before they disclose personal information, a new survey states.

      "Internet users want the Golden Rule of the Internet to be: Don't do anything unto me unless I give you permission," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a Washington-based Web research organization that released its survey results late Sunday night.

      This view challenges the policy put forth by the Clinton administration, the Federal Trade Commission and a consortium of Web advertisers. The policy gives Web sites the right to track Internet users unless they take steps to "opt out" of being monitored.

      Users also want to be in control of what they share online and get retribution against any company that violates that trust, Rainie said.

      Ninety-four percent of Internet users believe that Internet firms and top executives should be punished if they violate a user's privacy online, according to the survey. The suggested punishments included prison sentences (11 percent), fines (27 percent), Web site being shut down (26 percent) and being placed on a list of fraudulent sites (30 percent).

      The survey was conducted by phone between May 19 and June 21 with 2,117 Americans, 1,017 of whom are Internet users. The margin of error is 3 percentage points.

      While most Internet users fear their privacy will be compromised, most of them know little about how their browsing is monitored and have taken few steps to protect themselves.

      Of those surveyed, 56 percent do not know that Web sites and advertisers can track their activities by placing computer code called a cookie on the visitor's computer. A cookie makes the user's computer identifiable when it returns to the Web site and collects information about visited pages. Only 10 percent of Internet users have taken steps to block cookies on their machines.

      "There is a yawning gap between what Internet users want and what they know how to do," said Susannah Fox, director of research at the Pew Internet Project. "This suggests they would appreciate a concerted education effort on the basics of Internet tracking and some easy-to-use technological tools to take charge of their online privacy."

      Almost a quarter of Internet users (24 percent) have attempted to keep their privacy intact by lying, and a small number (14 percent) have masked their identities with encryption or software while online. And nearly two-thirds (68 percent) of Internet users also employ multiple passwords when registering at Web sites.

      Other highlights from the survey:

  • 25 percent of Internet users have had a computer infected by a virus

  • 48 percent of Internet users have bought something online with a credit card

  • 3 percent of Internet users suspect their credit card information had been intercepted online

  • 36 percent of Internet users have gone to a support group or site that provides information about a specific medical condition or personal situation

  • 25 per cent of Internet users have made friends with someone online that they never knew before in the offline world

  • 26 percent of Internet users have responded to an e-mail from someone they don't know

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