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  Site Seeing On The InternetFriday, February 23rd, 2024  

The Savvy Traveler
Millions of people are traveling the Internet (a.k.a. Cyberspace). And as going online gets easier and more affordable, even more will venture into Cyberspace.

Because Cyberspace is an image on a computer screen, sometimes it is called a "virtual" world - not actually real. But travel anywhere has real risks and rewards. No matter where you go - even if you don't actually leave your home to get there - common sense and knowledge are your best travel companions.

The Federal Trade Commission and your state Attorney General offer this guide to help you prepare for your voyage and avoid fraud and deception en route. We hope you'll share it with your family and especially with children, so that they will be savvy travelers when they visit Cyberspace, too.

Getting the Most From Your Travel
There is so much to do in Cyberspace and so many "sites" to see that you may wish you had a tour guide. Chances are your Internet service provider (ISP) offers a lot of information on its website - from news to shopping to games - including links to other websites. If you know where you want to go, you can simply type in the URL and go there. Or, you can use a search engine to look among websites to find what you're looking for.

You might visit a famous museum, catch the latest news, enter a chat room to discuss a topic that interests you, learn about parenting, search for a travel bargain, purchase a book or CD, start a part-time business, or email a letter to your far-flung family in a single step.

Books, articles, friends, and people you work with can steer you to many interesting websites. Once you're on the road, your own curiosity and interests will lead you to even more sites.

Information - The Currency of Cyberspace
When you enter Cyberspace, you've arrived in a global marketplace stocked with products and services. But the Internet's major currency is information. You seek it from others. Others seek it from you. Marketers, in particular, want to know as much about you and your buying habits as you are willing to tell. Since some information may be quite personal, you'll want to know how it is gathered, how it is used, and occasionally abused. Just as you might carry cash in a secret pouch when you go abroad, you may want to protect certain information when you go online.

Information is gathered on the Internet both directly and indirectly. When you enter a chat room discussion, leave a message on a bulletin board, register with a commercial site, enter a contest, or order a product, you directly and knowingly send information into Cyberspace. Often, a website may require information from you as the "toll" you pay to enter.

Data also can be gathered indirectly, without your knowledge. For example, your travels around a website can be tracked by a file called a "cookie" left on your computer's hard drive on your first visit to that site. When you revisit the site, it will open the cookie file and access the stored information so it will know how to greet you. You may even be welcomed by name. If you linger over a product or a subject that interests you, it will be noted. And soon, you may see ads on the site that look as if they've been custom tailored for you. As websites gather information directly and indirectly, they can collect a complete data picture of you and your family. This kind of information is valuable to marketers because it helps them target their sales efforts.

Maintaining Privacy When You Travel
It's difficult to be anonymous once you've ventured into Cyberspace. Expect to receive unsolicited advertising email, even personalized ads that seem to know you. This so-called junk email can be a nuisance, even a scam. If it looks questionable, simply delete it. Check with your ISP or online service for ways to limit unsolicited email.

As anywhere, Cyberspace has its share of "snoopers" and con men. Guard your password. It's the key to your account. People who work for your service provider should never request your password. If they do, refuse the request and report the incident to your service provider immediately.

When shopping online, be very careful about revealing your Social Security or credit card number and shipping address. Many websites scramble or encrypt information like that to ensure the safety of your personal data. Look at the privacy policy for information about how the websites you visit scramble or encrypt your personal data. This technology is improving rapidly, but still is not foolproof.

Concerns about loss of privacy are not new. But the computer's ability to gather and sort vast amounts of data - and the Internet's ability to distribute it globally - magnify those concerns.

To a large extent, privacy is up to you when you enter a website. Look for a privacy statement. Sites that are most sensitive to your privacy concerns not only have privacy policies, but also display them clearly and conspicuously, offer you a choice to share your personal information or restrict its use, and explain how your information will be used.

Information courtesy the US Federal Trade Commission

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