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Privacy Guardians Worried

Remember the old saying, "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is"? Now, civil libertarians are warning World Wide Web cruisers to keep that old chestnut in mind when they browse free online offers.

Once you've clicked on a free-offer outlet, you've entered the "click stream." Marketing companies can collect data about individual consumers without having them register or fill out an information form. And while this supertargeted marketing can provide prospective customers with useful information, it also leaves room for abuse.

Currently, many marketers use only aggregate data. Information about individuals is released only with consent, according to marketing officials. Commercial online services, including America Online, Prodigy, and CompuServe, offer a privacy option that tells providers that the user does not want his or her name sold to marketers. The Internet at large, however, offers no such option.

So, caveat emptor.