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INTERNET PRIVACY TODAY

It's Saturday morning and you hop on the Net looking for some info on smoking-related illnesses 'cause your best friend's thinking of quitting and you figured you'd help out with some cold, hard facts.

You hit a few web sites, buy a book on the evils of tobacco, and sign up for a newsletter that delivers a "tip of the week" for people looking to kick the habit.

A few months later, it's time to renew your medical insurance at work, but your boss informs you that in order to qualify, you'll need to take a complete medical and chest x-ray.

Why?

Because your company's insurer drew the wrong conclusion after buying your profile from a marketing firm that's been tracking your online habits.

Sound invasive? - it is.

WHAT'S IN STORE

Right now, new technology is emerging that will enable many of our household appliances to be connected to the Internet.

Your microwave is on the fritz? No problem, hit a few buttons on the console, and the unit will instantly seek out the manufacturer's website through its Internet connection and download the code it needs to correct the problem.

Out of eggs? Your refrigerator is also Net-ready, and through it you can email your local grocer to fill out your next food order.

But as more and more of the products we use each day become Internet-connected, the personal information they collect will be fed to marketers - and bought and sold without our knowledge or consent.

Those eggs your fridge has been ordering online for you - coupled with some high-fat foods and cheeses - set off a few warning bells at your insurance company which recently purchased this information. Don't be surprised to see your premiums go up next year, or when ads for cholesterol-lowering products start to appear on your PC.

It's no longer possible to avoid being tracked online.

The potential for abuse is enormous, as false assumptions are made about us based on bits of information picked up here and there.

As digital television emerges, our viewing habits will also be tracked by companies who monitor what we watch, when we watch it and what we buy.

Spending a lot of time on the home-shopping channel? Be prepared for a slew of invasive marketing aimed at you for varied products and services.

Tuned in to the Playboy Channel last night? Watch out for adult advertisements next time your daughter logs onto the Net from the home computer.

If we don't lay down the law regarding Internet privacy while the Net is still in its infancy, we'll never be able to reclaim it. As individuals, we need the ability to "pull the blinds" online and say, "Hey, I have a right to privacy!"

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