You and Your Privacy - Taking back control
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Various initiatives are in place that attempt to bring some uniformity to Internet privacy. Foremost among these is the Platform for Privacy Preferences Project, P3P, which was set up in 2002 by the World Wide Web Consortium and seeks to implement usersí privacy preferences through user agents, primarily web browsers. On the face of it, this approach has much to commend it: primarily, the simplicity of setting your preferences in one place (the browser preferences dialog), and thereafter letting the browser do the work of enforcing them.
However, the P3P paradigm is beset with difficulties that have made it extremely difficult to implement effectively. Key among these has been the lack of support from web sites. Non-compliant sites can continue to abuse the data they collect, almost without consequence, and the lack of enforcement power behind P3P only reinforces this problem.
Another difficulty has been garnering support from the main browsers. Support is present in Internet Explorer, but has been withdrawn from recent versions of Firefox and is not available at all in many other widely-used browsers such as Safari and Opera. Further difficulties have arisen from the complexity of much P3P software, the illusion P3P creates for users that their privacy is being protected when this may not in fact be the case, and the perception that P3P can actually facilitate the gathering of information rather than protect against it.
A more extreme stance on Internet privacy protection is taken by the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC), which was formed in 1994 in response to the privacy and civil liberties issues that were raised by the rapid rise of information technology. The EPIC has been highly critical of the P3P initiative, claiming that it has in fact created a state of complacency among users who wrongly believe their privacy is protected. EPIC is skeptical about the value of centralized solutions to privacy issues, and this is borne out by recent statistics published on its web site http://epic.org/.
Ultimately Internet privacy is an issue for all participants; of equal concern to surfers, site owners, developers and ISPs alike. However, one thing is clear: in the end itís up to each individual to take responsibility for their own privacy affairs, as nobody else can be trusted to do it on your behalf.
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