What are cookies ?
Do they know my identity in real life ?
If, at any point, you visit a Web site and buy something with a credit card, giving them your real name and address,andthat Web site feeds your name and address to the advertiser, now your online activities can be tied to your real-world identity.That should be illegal.
But it isn’t. Europe generally has much stronger privacy laws than we do, and Web sites that want to sell products in Europe generally have to follow the stronger European regulations. Still, you have very little legal basis to complain about all this information gathering unless a company’s behavior is contradicting any policy it may have posted in public.
Well, I’ll forget the Web and just do my thing in the real world.Although they’re not called cookies, the real world has all the same problems. When you fill out a product registration card or send in for a rebate, you’re putting your name on that product vendor’s mailing list. When you buy a house, your name and address are a matter of public record, and you’ll start receiving mail to sell you all the things a new house needs (a security system, window blinds, yard service, etc.). Every time you buy something with your credit card (or one of those loyalty coupon cards at the supermarket), all that information can potentially be attributed back to you at a later date. My cable TV company asked for my social security number before they would hook me up. What do you suppose they plan to do with it? At least with the online world, you can take steps to preserve your privacy. In the real world, pretty much the only thing you can do is pay cash, which isn’t always possible. (In fact, after having a baby and buying baby products at the supermarket, their automated coupon machine is regularly offering me baby formula coupons, even if I’m not purchasing any baby products on a given shopping trip. For the loyalty card, the supermarket asked me for my address. Are all the baby product mailings I get a result of this? Who knows?)
How can I only do business with vendors that respect my privacy?
[Defunct company] does not sell, rent, or trade your personal information with others. However, when one or more of our business partners co-sponsor a service, promotion and/or contest, we may share some or all of the information collected in connection with such service, promotion or contest with the co-sponsor(s).
So, they don’t give out your personal information except when they feel like giving it to a business partner. That’s not very reassuring.
How can I take my privacy into my own hands with these Web sites?
Many of these sites will ask you for your name, your e-mail address, and various demographic information about you (your income level, your age, etc.). Lie. Make up numbers. Make up a fake e-mail address. Unless you believe the Web site is giving you something specific for which they need to know your income (e.g., tax advice), then you can tell them anything you want. Unless youwantto receive e-mail from the Web site (e.g., Amazon.com will e-mail you to say your shipment has been delayed), then make up an address (although try to be careful to make sure it’s not actually somebody else’s valid e-mail address). If a web site wants an email address to verify who you are, perhaps for a password to sign in, you can always make yourself a secondary account with one of the web mail providers.Also, as a side note, if you receive a spam message that includes some kind of “send e-mail to remove@CompleteIdiotsRUs.com to remove yourself”, don’t do it. All you’re doing there is telling them that you have a valid e-mail address and you’ll get more junk later from them.