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A guide to privacy in cyberspace

A new guide shows Web surfers how to guard their personal data in cyberspace.

Everyone from federal agencies to grassroots advocates wants to protect consumers' online privacy, but a new guide released today shows surfers how to guard their own personal data in cyberspace.

The Net has brought up new concerns about how consumers' personal information is collected and used. The security of online financial transactions and email also is at issue.

Bills to shield Net users' privacy have been introduced in Congress, and the Federal Trade Commission will hold its second set of hearings on the topic this June.

Still, consumers need to watch out for themselves, cautions the Interactive Services Association, which released the guide.

"Going online opens a window to the world, but it also raises concerns about who may be looking back at you through that window," Linda Golodner, president of the National Consumers League, said in a statement. "This new publication helps consumers learn how to protect their privacy, and that of their families, as they enjoy all the good things that the Internet and online services have to offer."

Protecting Your Privacy When You Go Online explains how personal information is gathered electronically and how to safeguard email and children who venture onto the Net.

Members of the Interactive Services Association are mostly software companies, online merchants, and service providers like AT&T, CompuServe, and Microsoft.

The hard copy of the guide is free by regular mail, though the digital version is the same. It offers the following quick tips:

  • Find out your Internet service provider's privacy policies. Have your say about how your personal data will be used.

  • Don't carelessly post your name or email address in a member directory, bulletin board, mailing list, newsgroup, or chat session. People can use this information to contact you without your permission.

  • Protect your passwords and change them frequently.

  • Tell your children to get your permission before giving out their names or any personal information.

  • Take advantage of software tools that help protect privacy on the Net.