Anonymity and Privacy in Electronic Services

By | April 26, 2006

People increasingly use the Internet for an ever wider range of activities: reading the newspaper, shopping, staying in contact with family and friends, finding a partner, booking holidays, expressing their opinion, keeping an online diary, etc.

While performing an online activity, even if the confidentiality of the information being transmitted is protected through encryption, the source and destination of the communication are easily traceable. The information on who communicates with whom may reveal critical information that could be used against the Internet user. For example, someone accessing a web site with information on a life-threatening disease may not obtain a health insurance or lose his job if this information gets to the insurance company or the employer.

The linkability of all traffic information generated by an Internet user (e.g., through the IP address, national ID number or social security number), allows for sophisticated profiling of each user. Some of the data that could be gathered and stored directly or indirectly, just by monitoring the user’s communication are: email address, age, gender, location, religious preferences, sexual orientation, bank, job, type of products bought on the Internet, period of holidays, political orientation, lifestyle, or social network.

In the current communication infrastructure, traffic data is available at moderate cost to anyone willing to harvest it, without the data subject being aware of it. There is already an emerging market of personal data that criminals use to impersonate their victims. In some cases, the damage inflicted to identity theft victims is huge.Read Full Story

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