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Computer Privacy Annoyances by Dan Tynan

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INSULATING IDENTITY

Today’s Internet consists mostly of computers, web sites, and email systems. Tomorrow’s Net will be crammed full of devices from cell phones to toasters, all of them with the ability to share information about you. The possibilities are both extremely cool and a little creepy.

UCLA computer scientist Len Kleinrock sees a future where Net-connected “smart spaces” can instantly identify you, using RFID chips in the walls, floors, and even under your skin.

“When you walk into a room, the room will know you walked into it,” says Kleinrock, whose seminal research on computer networks provided the theoretical basis for the Internet. “It will call up your profile and know your privileges and preferences. You’ll be able to ask the room questions, and it will display the answers on a screen or as a holograph.”

That’s the cool part. The creepy part is when the room tries to sell you a time-share, pulls up your outstanding warrants and calls the cops, or simply records everything you say and do there.

So researchers are working on schemes to minimize the flow of personal data across the Net. At the Internet2’s Shibboleth Project, computer scientists have created Internet middleware that negotiates transactions between individuals and web sites using the bare minimum of data needed. So if you want to access a school’s online library, its web site could use Shibboleth to verify that you’re a student without needing to know your name or address. If you’re applying for a loan, ...

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