Free Content Privacy is Dead! Nyet to .Net! Identity Theft
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               What Can't be Done Online? 
               by Mike Banks Valentine 

O.K. I admit that title is a bit of hyperbole, but it seems 
to be going that direction, doesn't it? WebSite101 has long 
been an advocate of bringing *all* businesses, big and small 
online. We have focused most of our energy on bringing the 
home office online, assuring that mom and pop businesses get 
their share of the internet pie. 

Now the big boys have come to recognize that almost anything 
and everything can be accomplished online and the world is 
shrinking. Mom and pop, meet global business. Hewlett-Packard 
has announced that they are leading us all toward eConnection. 
Their television ads suggest the melding of every aspect of 
our lives through the internet.

Imagine the possiblilities of linking online from your health- 
care providers to your local paramedics through the internet. 
Extrapolating from that point suggests linking to medical 
records, health databases, family medical histories, DNA maps 
and onward toward complete knowledge of *your* physical being.

Now Microsoft has proposed that they be the "Keeper" of all this information as the host of .Net or Dot Net. A sweeping proposal that suggests not only that they be the guardian of all our information, but that we pay them to do so! .Net is a big dot NOT for me. I can't imagine Bill as the Gatekeeper of my personal information while charging me to access all of it when needed! The possible invasion of privacy seems nearly as immense as the good to be done by these vast linkages of information. I predict that the biggest debate to emerge this decade will be how to preserve your privacy in the developing network of databases which house some aspect of your lives. It seems that since Bill Gates suggested .Net, a new proposal has come from the "Open Source" crowd that information should not be "owned" so they've suggested their version of .Net. Nyet! Not Yet! Dot Net! Online advertiser DoubleClick got a giant dose of a bitter reality pill when they attempted to merge two databases of previously unlinked information. They have gathered infor- mation on the online behavior and preferences of millions of web surfers and thought they'd link that information to a database of the physical addresses and telephone numbers of those surfers. The resultant uproar stopped them cold. People love convenience, but demand privacy. I am a lover of technology, and as such, I've established online accounts with banks, retail stores, virtual offices, employers and virtual business partners that I've never met in person. The majority of my income this year was derived from virtual employment on projects. In order to gain that business, I spread my qualifications and resume far and wide over the web in publicly accessible databases. The idea of providing that information to the world is just short of horrifying to my wife. She has nothing to hide and much to be proud of in her career and professional life, but will not make it publicly accessible. This is a possible stumbling block to the eConnection of the world. If you want the convenience of universal information sharing, sort of an "Open Source" of personal data, you have to agree to tell the world everything.

When you do, you open yourself to some major inconvenience as happened to yours truly. I became the unwitting innocent victim of "identity theft" recently when an unscrupulous evildoer somehow got my personal information and committed major bank fraud using a fake driver license and withdrawal slip. The good news is that the transaction was videotaped and the FBI is on their tail. Clearly, it'll take some time to recover from the damage done to my credit and I'll never recover the days of time spent doing police reports and bank fraud forms.

The bad news is that now I don't trust online databases either. I've lost my innocence and my credit's gone to hell. But since I've spread my digital self so widely, I'll never recover all that information and I need to remain vigilant. The odd thing is that I still prefer online shopping, online banking and online work because of the convenience.

How are we going to reconcile the need for privacy and the promise of instant access to information? If paramedics had access to medical records of accident victims they'd be able to save more lives. If your cell phone is used to call 911, you can be located within twenty feet by medical emergency personnel or police. But who controls access to those sources of information and how secure the database?

Eli Lilly, the maker of the anti-depressant drug called Prozac, recently exposed the names of a group of people who subscribe to an email reminder service they operate. Take your pills today, and by-the-way, here's everyone else on this list with you, we hope you all enjoy getting to know each other. This incident is clear proof that nobody can be trusted with personal information - yet.

No doubt laws will be passed, speeches will be made and more personal information will be intercepted, abused and exposed to public scrutiny. How do we fix this? I haven't got a clue. I guess my wife was right though, don't share info with anyone online unless you want to spread that information around the world.
-------------------------------------------------------- WebSite101 "Reading List" Weekly Netrepreneur Tip Sheet Weekly Ezine emphasizing small business on the Internet e-tutorial online at: By week's end you're ready expand your business to the web! --------------------------------------------------------
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July 16, 2001