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    Boston Herald: Tracking sparks privacy fears

    The Boston Herald reports on concerns about online privacy, Web browsing history and how it can affect a person’s future. We’ve talked before about how data from social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace have been used to gather evidence in criminal trials, against employees (which can lead to lawsuits) and applicants to jobs in the US and abroad, applicants to colleges and graduate schools, politicians and high school students.

    As marketers face increasing pressure to compile information about consumers, a leading Cambridge privacy expert fears that vast databases on people’s Web surfing histories could land in the hands of employers, college admission officers or Big Brother.

    “We’re in the early stages of this information getting pulled together in a way for people who make decisions on risk,” said Rob Shavell, 37, co-founder of Cambridge’s Abine, an Internet privacy firm. “You can imagine a high school kid doesn’t want college admissions officers to have access to everything they’ve done on the Internet, correlated with their Facebook page and a risk score.”

    Some digital advertisers already create lists of people’s Web-surfing histories tied to their IP addresses to predict what products will be of interest to them. Nothing bars advertisers from selling those databases on personal Internet use, which can show individuals’ Web surfing histories dating back years, Shavell said. […]

    Congress is considering a “Do Not Track” bill that would allow consumers to opt-out of online marketing, and U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry has introduced an online privacy act limiting the collection of information by advertisers.

    “It’s going to be much harder for Congress to regulate than the credit bureaus,” Shavell said, noting that some Web companies and advertisers are based outside the United States.

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