Who Stole the Cookies from the Cookie Jar?

Nervous about revealing too much of yourself when you go on the Web? Privada Inc., a San Jose, Calif.-based start-up, offers Web Incognito, a service designed to preserve your on-line privacy.

Web Incognito lets surfers cruise the Internet without fear of unwittingly divulging their identities to unsavoury Web sites. The Java-based PrivadaProxy software users install on their machines acts as the interface to a network of servers maintained by Privada. By segmenting and encrypting system information — things such as IP addresses, e-mail addresses, operating systems and types of browser — the network blocks Web sites from identifying individual users. Web sites can still compile profiles based on surfing patterns — and thereby continue to create customized pages for the user’s convenience — but what they can’t do is track the IP addresses from the Privada network back to the individual’s computer.

When it comes to cookies — those insidious crumbs of information Web sites launch to create electronic trails back to your computer — users have the option of blocking them through the Privada network or using them to access password-protected sites. In either case, the cookies reside on the Privada network servers, not on your hard drive. In other words, they’re your cookies but they’re stored in Privada’s jar.

The service costs US$5 per month and is available to individuals as well as to corporations. For those who aren’t overly concerned with privacy, Barbara Bellissimo, Privada’s president and CEO, offers a persuasive argument why you should be. “The Internet is full of information that sites can use to create profiles without permission,” she says. “Since we’re not sure where the privacy debate will end up, it’s better to start by being private and choosing to disclose pieces after trust with a site has been established.” Once personal privacy is forfeited wholesale, who knows if any of us will ever get it back.

A free CD-ROM of the PrivadaProxy software can be requested at www.privada.com.