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The Truth About Hiding Your Tracks on the Internet

Ok, ok, I know you've seen them. All those pop up windows claiming that "You're being watched!" or banner ads saying "Your computer is under surveillance!" And all you need to do is buy their product and your computer's visbility will disappear from the Internet. Well, to state the obvious, that's just not true.

We have to give those companies some credit though - they are giving you half of the truth. If they were giving you the whole story, what they'd be saying is that their software will make your surfing tracks disappear from your personal computer. Not from the Internet.

Now, with that said, don't just blow off these products saying "if they can't get rid of all my personal surfing records then what good are they?" These products actually address the more important half of the issue. The effective ones really do clean up your personal computer! To me this is very important because it's easier for people to get your computer's Internet records, via hacking, tracking or outright theft, than it is for them to get any other type of Internet records.

Want proof? Just ask Gary Glitter, a 1960's pop star who took his personal computer in to have a repair done. The shop found both pictures and other evidence of illegal Internet activity and called the cops! Glitter spent time in jail because he didn't "clean up his act" before he took the computer in for a repair.

The other half of this issue and the one that is a bit more complicated to address is made up of all the records established and held by your ISP (Internet Service Provider), Internet routers (computer "traffic cops" that route Internet requests around the web) and website hosting servers.

These computers are completely outside your scope of influence. You can't just call up your ISP and tell them to delete all records that pertain to your account! Once they are done laughing, they will let you know that to do that they would have to cull through literally millions of records for any given day to pull out your two or three hundred records. The effort would be enormous and they don't have the resources to do this kind of work.

Besides, these logs are used mostly to trouble shoot server / router errors and to help stop hacker abuse and other kinds of DOS (Denial of Service) attacks.

But you can affect the information that gets stored in these logs. To understand this you need to know how the process works. Here are the basic steps:

-You sign on to your ISP.

-Your ISP assigns you an IP (Internet Protocol) address. An IP address is a series of numbers that tell the computer where you are connecting from and who to send information to.

-You type in a web address in your browser and send that request to your ISP.

-Your ISP logs the request, along with your assigned IP address and then goes out to the Internet to request the web page.

-The ISP's request goes through multiple routers, each one logging who made the request and forwarding on the request to the next until it gets to the server hosting the web page.

-The host server logs the request and sends the information back out, often through a completely different set of routers, each one again logging the request and passing it on to the next until it gets back to your ISP.

-Your ISP looks up in it's log who made the initial request and sends it on to you.

-You get the page, a temporary copy is stored on your hard drive.

-You click on a link or enter in a new web address and the process starts all over again!

So for every request you make to your ISP, not only does that request get stored on your computer, it gets stored on a number of other computers as well! Comforting right?

Well there is a way to hide, or mask would be a better term, your web surfing activities. You need to use an anonymous surfing tool. Sites like Anonymizer.com or the-cloak.com offer an online proxy type service that takes advantage of SSL and encryption to keep your surfing tracks to yourself.

All requests made to them through SSL are encrypted so even your ISP can't read what you requested. This secure connection is the same type that ecommerce sites use to protect your credit card data. Then all requests they make for you reference their computers as the originator of the request so all the routers and web host servers see is their IP address! Your personal and or browser information is blocked from the Internet.

So, if you really want to protect your privacy, give the snoopers a one - two punch. Clean up your act by using one of the history / cookie clean up tools available for download AND surf through one of the anonymous surfing providers out on the net.

Michael Ameye has been developing web sites since 1995. He started writing about online privacy issues to answer questions from family, friends and co-workers. Visit http://www.canyourspam.com to see his latest work.

He is also the chief editor of PSS Online, A Privacy, Safety and Security eZine dedicated to bringing important information to people in order to foster a safer more secure environment - online and off. Visit http://www.pssonline.info to subscribe.

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