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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Privacy on the Web

The battle is raging with no end in sight. What is going to kill the Internet, privacy violations or anonymity?

It seems like every website out there requires registration. Unfortunately, not every website respects their users privacy (not every website adheres to their privacy policy either). When these websites release their users information (either intentionally or not), their users email becomes stuffed with spam. I know that I have lost many valid emails due to the spam blockers that I have set up (I only allow people that are already in my contact book to email me).

On the flip side, anonymous users clog public sources of information (such as blogs) with spam and rude, obnoxious, and often times obscene posts making it difficult to find good posts in popular sites.

Recently I have become aware of a subversive element in the web in favor of anonymous browsing. A couple of my favorites are and It appears that both of these sites have been active for years, I guess I'm not as Internet savvy as I thought I was :(.

spambob is a free, anonymous, on-the-fly email service. You don't need to register to use it. When you are on a website that asks for an email address, simply type any email address you want from and, voila, instant email address. If you want to check your email, simply go to and search for the address you used. Since there's no registration, anybody on the Internet can read the email, however, since there's no registration, the email can't be traced back to you and your inbox doesn't get stuffed with spam. Clever!

BugMeNot allows people to share registration information so that you don't have to register at all! Considering the number of news sites that force registration to read articles (usually the second page of an article ) it's nice to know that you don't have to provide all of them with your personal information. If you use Firefox as your browser, there is actually a plugin that will automatically fill in the login information for you (through the context menu) so that you don't even have to go to the BugMeNot website!

The big question is "is this ethical?" This is certainly a major topic of discussion. First let's define the argument as using anonymous information to get into free services that don't appear to have any reason to require registration in the first place. I don't condone stealing paid-for services or intellectual property.

That being said, I still can't think of any arguments for this being ethical. From a purely ethical standpoint, if you don't agree with the site's policy, boycott the site. Allow capitalism to rein. If the site believe's the policy is threatening their success, they will either change it or fail. Unfortunately business isn't always run in a rational way (at least from the consumer's perspective) and there's always enough people that are willing to provide personal information that the success of a large site is not threatened by a few people who refuse to use their site.

On the scale of 0 to 10 on the ethics meter with 0 meaning I'm going to Hell and 10 I'm going to Heaven, I would have to rate this a 4. Certainly not helping, but also not killing my chance of getting into Heaven (I just have to hold the door open for a couple of elderly ladies to make up for it :). I'll still use the boycott method most of the time, but it's nice to know there are alternatives.

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