The great american privacy makeover

Wednesday, 22 October 2003, 11:36 AM EST

It starts out innocently enough. You're browsing the Web, dreaming of the weekend and your next golf game, and you happen across a great-looking site that promises to drop your handicap in three easy lessons. Sounds good, but you've got a meeting in 5 minutes, so you hastily sign up for the site's weekly newsletter and dash off.

When the newsletter arrives several days later, however, it's not alone. Every day, more and more new spam crams your mailbox, hawking Caviar Quarterly subscriptions or pitching wild weekends in Las Vegas.

Who knew one newsletter would have so many pushy friends--and who invited them in the first place?

Companies that collect facts about you often have obscure data-handling practices, so your name, address, and account numbers could end up spreading across the Web faster than a cold at a corporate retreat. Your problems don't stop there--you also have to guard against ever more sophisticated scammers and hackers who are out to steal your identity or your company's data. And studies show that these problems keep getting worse both for individuals and for businesses.

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