Hide and seek on the Web

Web site operators and corporations are playing game of I spy, you spy with covert cloaking trick.

Jay Allen considered his ex-girlfriend a "rabbit in the pot" stalker for the repeatedly nasty comments she posted to his blog.

So he tried passive resistance by drawing a virtual curtain around his Web site. The trick, called cloaking, made his blog appear seemingly abandoned to her, while his regular postings were available to anyone else with a Web browser.

"I found out the Internet Protocol address (of her computer) and delivered her a static page anytime she visited," said Allen, an author and software developer. "That worked really well, until one day she went to an Internet cafe and found a month-and-a-half worth of postings and left a bunch of ugly comments again."


What's new:
New tools let people draw a virtual curtain around a Web site to mask sensitive information from outsiders.

Bottom line:
Web site operators and corporations are latching on to the cloaking practice as it becomes a growing strategy for playing espionage with rivals.

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Allen added: "Still, it's a really neat idea to be able to cloak a page."

The concept, also known as IP-based filtering, has been around for many years, and outside of dodging an ex, it has numerous useful and covert applications that have caught on in the business world.

While few would admit it, the practice is an ever-more-popular strategy for Web site operators and corporations playing espionage with rivals.

Footprints left in the form of Web traffic logs are tipping one kind of voyeur off to another, and in some cases, that's delivered new competitive intelligence to rivals.

An online retailer, for example, might show one price for a digital camera to the public, and another price 15 percent higher for the same product to its rival. Consequently, the rival might price its product disproportionately and lose customers.

"Like with Caller ID, people want to know who's calling them. And it's going that way now with the computer; people want to know who's looking at their site," said Chris Cox, a Florida-based private investigator. "Some of (the voyeurism) is quite general, like for marketing purposes, and some of it can be quite sinister."

As the Internet becomes part of mainstream media, several high-profile lawsuits, including those from the music labels, have proven that privacy is anything but a guarantee online. But people still have the feeling they're anonymous while surfing. That's why many "safe surfing" or subscription privacy tools have yet to gain steam with consumers.

Fears that marketers are watching your every move have subsided and seemingly been replaced by corporate paranoia over internal secrets.

New tools to help companies "cloak" their traffic while surfing the

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