The prevalence of Internet usage in daily life has given rise to serious concerns about Internet privacy, particularly in light of tracking software developed by software companies.
Experts warn that whenever you log on, you're not entering cyberspace alone.
According to the latest statistics released by the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, the number of Internet users in Taiwan reached 7.82 million in late December, some 33 percent of the national population.
According to research conducted by Cyveillance, a leading provider of automated Internet intelligence, the use of surveillance technology known as Web bugs has grown nearly 500 percent since 1998.
"Nowadays, even if you have not downloaded a file or opened an e-mail attachment, viruses like Core Red or Linda still can intrude into your personal computer," said Jony Wu (吳韶卿), the associate product marketing manger at Trend Micro (趨勢科技) in Taipei, a leading anti-virus software maker. "These intruders can step through your door even when you're just surfing a Web site."
Web pages with surveillance technology can track visitors' surfing habits and gather their personal information. When people surf a Web site with monitoring technology, "the Web server delivers not just the contents of the page but also a worm which can suck information from the users' computers or execute other malicious functions," Wu said.
The worm-like intruders -- which don't hurt your PC -- range from cookies, a Web technology tool, to Web bugs, a surveillance technology that invades surfers' privacy.
A cookie is, according to the Profile Center of microsoft.com a "very small text file placed on your hard drive by a Web page server" and is "essentially your identification card," which can "tell the server that you returned to that Web page."
* More information on Internet tracking is available on www.cyveillance.com and www.privacyfoundation.org.
* A free Web bug detector can be downloaded at www.bugnosis.org.
Cookies help Internet operators present a tailor-made Web page which fits your favorites well. With the assistance of an intelligence agent hiding in your PC, online retailers like Amazon.com can always identify who you are without the hassle of logging in and show recommendations based on your past transaction records and Web-surfing behavior, said Hanson Huang (黃漢臣), the manager of the research department at Shay & Partners (太穎國際法律事務所), a law firm with a consulting subsidiary that focuses on online security.
"For users, cookies are a double-edged sword," Huang said.
While Web operators use the collected information from your computer to make Web site visits faster and more enjoyable, a third-party marketer may also use it to lure your attention to banner advertisements.
DoubleClick, the Internet's largest advertising agency, owns an advertising network spreading over 11,000 Web sites and has been able to use this network to gather Net surfers' information and compile a sophisticated database comprising detailed demographic profiles of millions of Internet users.
A Web bug, however, shows up like a transparent dot, a one pixel by one pixel image, on a Web page or in an e-mail message. It automatically loads onto your browser and its existence is difficult to recognize.
Once it loads, it gathers various pieces of information about the surfer from the cookies it places and those already there.
In response to concerns about Net privacy, in addition to the emerging new privacy laws, some options exist to prevent these privacy violations.