On the Internet, privacy, a major concern of users, can be divided into these concerns:

  • What personal information can be shared with whom
  • Whether messages can be exchanged without anyone else seeing them
  • Whether and how one can send messages anonymously

Personal Information Privacy

Most Web users want to understand that personal information they share will not be shared with anyone else without their permission. An annual survey conducted by the Graphics, Visualization and Usability Center of the Georgia Institute of Technology showed that 70% of the Web users surveyed cited concerns about privacy as the main reason for not registering information with Web sites. 86% indicated that they wanted to be able to control their personal information. A study by TRUSTe revealed that 78% of users surveyed would be more likely to provide information to sites that offered privacy assurance.

The World Wide Web Consortium's Platform for Personal Privacy Project (P3P) offers specific recommendations for practices that will let users define and share personal information with Web sites that they agree to share it with. The P3P incorporates a number of industry proposals, including the Open Profiling Standard (OPS). Using software that adheres to the P3P recommendations, users will be able to create a personal profile, all or parts of which can be made accessible to a Web site as the user directs. A tool that will help a user decide whether to trust a given Web site with personal information is a Statement of Privacy Policy that a Web site can post.

Message Privacy

In an open network such as the Internet, message privacy, particularly for e-commerce transactions, requires encryption. The most common approach on the Web is through a public key infrastructure (PKI). For e-mail, many people use Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), which lets an individual encrypt a message or simply send a digital signature that can be used to verify that the message was not tampered with en route.


Although this form of privacy is not usually needed or wanted, there are occasions when a user may want anonymity (for example, to report a crime). The need is sometimes met through the use of a site - called a remailer - that reposts a message from its own address, thus disguising the originator of the message. (Unfortunately, many spam distributors also take advantage of remailers.)


This was last updated in November 2005

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