- where innovation resides
The Newsletter
Issue 1 June 2001
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Is privacy Zero Knowledge
By Michael Seaforth
Many people still use the web under the impression that as they meander, no trace of their travels remains. Unfortunately, unless special precautions are taken, it is quite possible that their every move is being tracked. As a message moves from one computer to another on the web, its origin, destination and contents can be read with tools widely available online. Who you are, the sites you visit, the pages you read and the ads you view are considered by some to be a veritable gold mine of information to be mined and sold for a profit.

Those intent on maintaining control over their personal information while online have a useful tool in the Freedom privacy software from Zero Knowledge Systems of Montreal. By sending all data through a separate network and using encryption and pseudonyms, the information is stripped of anything that could be used to identify the user.

All messages are re-routed through three "Freedom" Servers distributed around the globe. Each server knows the address of the previous and next server in the network but not the origin, destination nor contents of the message. The user has the option of selecting which three servers will be used.

Users can create up to five separate identities, pseudonyms or "nyms" for short. So, someone could use one identity for shopping, another for your contributions to newsgroups, a third when researching sensitive topics, a fourth for chatting with friends and a fifth for some other purpose. To anyone on the web, that user has now become five separate unidentifiable individuals.

The software is available in a free and subscription version. The free version provides a personal firewall, form filler, cookie manager, ad manager and a personal alert feature. The latter could be used to prevent certain types of information from leaving your computer accidentally, for example, your name or address. It also allows you to create separate but unencrypted identities that are suitable for low-risk use.

With the premium version, you can also create five separate and highly secure identities, send encrypted email using your existing email program and browse, chat and participate anonymously in news groups.

Like any piece of software, unless it is setup and used as instructed, it may not provide the desired level of protection. Specific browser settings are required to guard against compromising one’s privacy. For greater anonymity, features such as Active X, Javascript, digital signatures and Netscape’s "What’s Related" should not be used when Freedom is running. Here, you can view some of the information you leave behind when visiting some sites.

For anyone intent on safeguarding their privacy on the net, it appears that for now, Freedom is at the head of the pack. Freedom version 2 is currently available for the Windows 95/98, Me, 2000 and Linux platforms. The premium version of Freedom costs US$49.95 per year for the use of five pseudonyms.

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