Internet Commercialization vs. Privacy

Article excerpt

If you've been an Internet user for any length of time, you probably recognize the quote above as the caption from that infamous cartoon, published in a 1993 issue of The New Yorker, where a dog with one paw on a computer keyboard is informing a less computer-literate canine companion about one of the more celebrated conventional Net wisdoms. Whether you're young or old, male or female, rich or poor, black or white, your demographic characteristics are irrelevant in cyberspace due to the degree of anonymity afforded by the global "network of networks."

Uh, don't bet the farm on that assumption, folks.

On the Internet these days, it's probably well known that you are, in fact, a dog, as well as what breed or breeds you are, what brand of kibble you prefer, and whether or not you've been neutered.

I can tell you firsthand, as a former Web server administrator for a nonprofit regional library network, that when you connected to our site, our server log told us what site you connected from, what time of day you connected, and which of our Web pages you accessed. And we were a small, relatively unsophisticated operation, not going out of its way to amass and analyze user statistics, inasmuch as we had no interest in selling products or services to the Netsurfing public, nor in seducing advertisers into purchasing space on our Web site.

When You Want to Find Them

The commercialization of the Internet is, of course, the leading business story of the '90s. Doesn't it seem as if every conceivable sort of profit-making entity is attempting to mine its own Web-based grubstake? (Would you even want to look at a site with a URL like http://www. hernia.com? Me either, but I recently saw a reference to it in some publication.)

That's not to say Internet-based commerce per se is a bad thing. For one thing, it has the potential to attract the sort of interest and investments in network infrastructure that are absolutely vital to the future of the Net. Also, commercial Web sites can be extremely useful. When I was looking to buy a Hewlett-Packard ink jet printer several months ago, I was confused by the various models and their features. By paying a visit to http:ll www.hp.com, I was able to conveniently view the specifications for every model and print out the information on the ones in which I was interested. The Web as a whole is an excellent source of hardware and software technical support. Few, if any, computer-related companies do not have some sort of Web presence these days, and most of these sites offer a wealth of user information, downloadable product updates, and even e-mail links to sales and support personnel.

Since most of these companies are eager for you to find them, their URLs tend not to be very obscure. So rather than resorting to a search engine, simply type http://www.companyname.com (or http: //www.companyacronym.com) into your Web browser. Usually, you'll hit the bull's-eye. (In newer versions of the most popular Web browsers-versions 2.0 and higher of Netscape, for instance-you don't even have to type the entire URL. If you want to go to the Microsoft Web site, for example, instead of typing http://www.microsoft.com, just type microsoft in the location box above the main browser window and hit your enter key. The browser is smart enough to fill in the missing pieces for you.)

Not every commercial site is this easy to locate, however. If you're stumped, try the NetPartners Company Site Locator at http://netpart.com/company/search.html. As these folks point out right on their search page, "Who would have thought Capitol Records' homesite is http:// www.hollywoodandvine.com?" You can search here by a specific domain name (e.g., microsoft.com), a complete company name (e.g., Proctor and Gamble), or a partial company name (e.g., Hewlett). The search engine uses the InterNIC database of registered companies (which means primarily U.S. companies are included) to provide you with a "hit list" showing all sites that match your search string that have Web and/or ftp servers. …