The guerilla approach to Net privacy

Web researchers are 'shocked!' to find that savvy surfers fake their email IDs to remain anonymous online and avoid deluges of spam

The battle over Internet privacy has a new faction: the Web privacy hawk using guerilla tactics such as lying about their identities when trading profile information for free services, the Pew Charitable Trust found in its latest survey.

The number of "privacy warriors" in the US may be as high as a quarter of Web users, whose most popular trick is providing a fake name.

Nearly as popular, Pew found in its survey presented Tuesday at the Progress and Freedom Foundation's Aspen Summit, was giving a secondary email address to avoid the inevitable follow-up marketing pitches.

Less than ten percent prefer more above-board tactics, including sending encrypted emails or using software to hide a computer identity from a visited Web site, the Pew found.

Lee Rainie, who helped draft the Pew study, said most of the warriors are Internet veterans who have been online more than three years. With more people going online each day, the faction will only grow, he said.

"These are privacy hawks," he said. "They assume the industry is out to exploit their information. [Lying] is the best way to fight back."

But try as these stealth surfers might to remain anonymous, the Pew thinks it's been able to at least offer a bare-bones profile: they are most likely males, 35 percent are between the ages of 18 and 29, and nearly all have been online for more than three years.

They are also "privacy hawks", who don't mind using their own lies to fight what they believe are corporate lies about how their information will be used, Rainie said.

The privacy warriors are an result of the plodding pace at which government and industry have tackled the issue of privacy online, Rainie said.

In the States, there is legislation now pending in Congress that tries to tackle the issue. But most of the tech industry wants self-regulation instead.

"I think the industry has a problem, which is nothing more than consumer confidence," said John P Palafoutas, senior vice president of domestic policy for the American Electronics Association, which has 3,500 members.

"This is another manifestation of the problem."

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