The following are terms or phrases that are used often in regards to online privacy:
Cookie – A cookie is a small text file that is placed on your computer by some websites you visit. Cookies can then be used to track you through the site, or when you revisit. Some cookies will allow you to save information about yourself, to prevent you re-entering it. When used correctly cookies can be very useful, however some websites use them to track you without your consent.
Web Bug / Beacons – A web beacon is a clear image (you cannot usually see it). They are often placed in email messages. When you open the message the bug will notify the sender. Web bugs are often used by services such as MSGTag. However recently they have been used by spammers to validate email addresses.
Spam – Spam is any unsolicitated electronic message. Often spam messages will be commercial in nature. “Spammers” usually harvest email addresses from websites, or buy them from other companies. eTrust certified companies are prohibited from selling your contact details.
Pseudonymity This concept originated in the field of cryptography. Pseudonymity is the ability to prove a consistent identity without revealing one’s actual name, instead using an alias or pseudonym. Pseudonymity combines many of the advantages of both a known identity and anonymity. In anonymity, one’s identity isn’t known, but pseudonymity creates a separate, persistent “virtual” identity that can’t be linked to a specific person, group or organization. Pseudonymous remailers, called “nym servers,” take messages addressed to the pseudonym and resend them to the pseudonym’s real e-mail address, and they can also forward messages to others as though they came from the pseudonym’s address on the server. And unlike with anonymous e-mail, users can reply to a pseudonymous sender, and pseudonyms can establish reputations in the digital world.
Opt-in/Opt-out An important distinction in the privacy debate concerns the terms under which e-mail marketers (legitimate ones, not spammers that ignore ethical and legal concerns) can contact users. Opt-in is the consumer-friendly position, where companies can send e-mail only to people who have directly given their consent for such communications, typically by signing up at a Web site. Opt-out is the marketer-preferred alternative under which marketers can e-mail to anyone who hasn’t specifically told them not to. Unfortunately, spammers have used opt-out replies as a way of verifying valid e-mail addresses.
Spyware – Any technology that aids in gathering information about persons or organizations without their knowledge. On the Internet, spyware is programming that’s secretly installed in a computer to gather information about the user and relay it to advertisers or other interested parties. Spyware can infiltrate a computer as a virus or as a surprise result of installing a new program. Data-collecting programs installed with the user’s knowledge aren’t spyware as long as the user fully understands what data is being collected and with whom it will be shared. If your computer has spyware in it, be aware that you have a “live” server sending information about your surfing habits to a remote location.