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  • There's an art to balance one's notoriety and privacy on the Web. When I expose myself to the Net, I take care to circumscribe my colleagues and cloak my identity. I have blogged under my own name and also using noms de guerre. My occasional posts to Facebook (mostly to pass on progressive political actions) are not under my own name either. Indeed, I challenge you to find my Facebook page. Should you think you have succeeded, I give you permission to sprout a story from here to say what you came up with. If you're right, I'll do something nice for you.

    Haven't gotten into Twitter either. It doesn't scare me, but it seems like a major time sink I would rather to avoid. In general, I am cautious online because I learned a good while back that the Internet houses many dens of thieves who deploy hosts of spies. Some of those thieves work for the government, some for corporations. None of them have our best interests at heart. (But then, who could?)

    As the seed of this story illustrates, almost every click I make to a place on the Web causes two or three more Web sites to keep track of me. And those are just the ones that provide cookies. Still others troll for my IP address. I could file a FOIA, but that wouldn't begin to describe my online footprint.

    Consider this: I'll be you did not know that many mobile devices monitor keystrokes and other user actions, enabling third-party apps to mine users' address books, photos, and memos. The mobile carriers often include software in their phones called CarrierIQ that, among other actions, makes it possible for them (and assorted hackers) to remotely turn your phone's camera and mic on and off outside of your control. Nor would ever know if this happened. Sooner or later, if you use a smartphone, data from it is destined to find its way to secret repositories, where it will be sifted through and sit for a long time.

    Do you vote in Internet polls or write product reviews? No wonder we wonder what computers are thinking about us; there are spies everywhere. Seeds we sow in social networks sprout and get harvested. We ban third-party cookies from our browsers but it doesn't matter; they find us anyway. Then they try to connect us — to advertisers, merchants, services, causes and one another. How touching.

    One result, of course, is adspam. Targeted ads supposedly improve on email spam because they can zero in on our interests to provide us with "valuable information." May I ask, though, have any of you ever actually bought anything by clicking on an unsolicited ad in the right margin of a Web page? I sure haven't, but they must work or advertisers wouldn't bother, right?

    Like most people, I need the Web and wouldn't know what to do without it. But I try to practice good hygiene online, and segregate my emails into half a dozen mailboxes. For prophylaxis, I use a plain old cell phone, Macs rather than PCs, and as I said, never click on ads. It probably helps a little but by now my dossier must be huge.

    @image: Artwork from CDKR Web
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