Free Internet Access Guide -
Free ISP Report

Home - Free ISP Report
Find a Free Internet Access Service
Free ISP News
Free ISP Tips
Free E-mail
What your Free ISP knows about you

April 10, 2000

How much do you know about your privacy when you're online? For most people, the Internet is a place where they feel that they are anonymous. Unfortunately, that's generally not the case. For those users who have chosen a free Internet service, their privacy may be even more at risk.

When you sign up for a free ISP, some services ask very personal questions, including your income, level of education, the ages of your children, and whether you own your car or your home. Using this information, these services can create a general profile of the products you're likely to buy or use. This profile allows these services to sell space on your computer screen to advertisers, who can then target their ads to people who are more likely to become a customer. For example, a landscaping company probably isn't interested in paying for an ad to be shown to someone who rents an apartment, since that person isn't likely to need landscaping service. Targeted advertisement space such as this can generally be sold for much higher prices than non-targeted space, since few of the ads are likely to be wasted on consumers who probably wouln't buy the product being advertised.

When you use a free Internet service, many services keep track of the websites you visit to add to the profile they keep. If you spend a lot of time on travel related sites, it might be assumed that you're either planning a trip now, or that you travel often. As a result, you might be targeted to recieve ads for airlines, resorts, or Internet travel services. Ads can also be targeted in real-time, so when you're visiting a site that sells airline tickets, the ads that you see will often be for competing travel agencies.

Many people find this real-time marketing appealing. If you are visiting a bookstore, another bookstore may send you an advertisement for similar books, or a discount if you buy at the store that's advertising to you. Other people are more concerned about this tracking, and liken it to being followed around a store and having a sales clerk write down every item a customer looks at.

Most free ISP's have privacy policies that forbid them from disclosing your personal information, except in aggregate form. However, there's no way to ensure that these policies will be followed. Though there is no law that protects your personal information, the Federal Trade Commission does investigate companies who violate their stated privacy policy.

For those who are worried about their privacy while online, there are a few things that can help maintain your anonymity. First, choose an Internet service that doesn't ask too many questions when you sign up. NetZero is one company that asks many detailed questions before new users can sign up. Others, such as Worldspy, require only your name, or email address. You can also find a free ISP that doesn't track the websites you visit. Worldspy and FreeWWWeb both claim that your activities online aren't tracked.

If you're really concerned, you can use a service that protects your anonymity by acting as a screen between you and the website you're visiting. These services act as a "middleman". You request a web page from one of these services, then their server will fetch the webpage and deliver it back to you. Since you never connect to the website yourself, it has no way of knowing that you requested the page. Some services will even hide the website's address, so that your ISP can't tell what sites you're visiting.

Generally, it shouldn't matter much if someone knows that you searched for "stamp collecting" on a search engine, but you may not want to access websites that have specific health information, if you don't want to reveal the health conditions you may be experiencing. In those cases, an anonymous web service may be the best option.

If you question the privacy you're afforded using a free ISP, and might consider using a traditional, paid ISP, instead, there's bad news. Even the regular ISP's have the ability to track your activity online, though most simply don't.

For more information about privacy online, visit:
EPIC - the Electronic Privacy Information Center
CDT - Center for Democracy and Technology

If you're interested in an anonymous web service, these companies offer those services:
Zero Knowledge Systems

Copyright © 2000-, StoreIQ Services, LLC. Privacy Policy, Terms of Service, Advertising Info, Link To Us