The Internet is a great tool. As it becomes woven into our day to day fabric, there are many more tasks that can be done on it. It is convinient, most people in the developed world have access to it. And many organizations/corporations are providing users with the tools to get stuff done on the Internet. Everyone from governments (records, applications, taxes), businesses (shopping, services, bill payments, banking) and individuals (research, communication, entertainment) are using the Internet to conduct transactions.
But the Internet is a public network. That is, the access routes are for the most part open to other traffic and users. It is also a medium to obtain information, legally or not on a wide variety of people and things. So how can we make sure that the Internet can be used without compromising privacy of the users? A tough proposition that is getting harder every day. Like or not, websites collect information about their visitors (cookies, logs). Information that includes how often they visit, what links they click on, what they buy, etc. If you entered your name, age, or any other demographic information, there is a good chance that it might be provided to other firms to sell products/services or for analysis. Many times, the users are unaware of exactly what is being collected/monitored. What happens to this personal information if the company has financial diffuculties and has to liquidate its assets? Is this information a company asset, free to be sold to the highest bidder?
Internet applications like IE/Netscape have not really kept up either. Privacy issues have been put on the back burner in an effort to compete for market share which is predominantly based on ease of use and standards. Privacy is that uncomformable issue that most people wish would go away. There are many other tools like Anonymizer, anti-virus/security packages and others that can help users sanitize their computers and get an upper hand on what information they want on their computers. These applications allow you to select what personal information you wish to divulge and how to clean up your computer so as to negate any information or statistics that might be collected on you while surfing. These tools and a good personal firewall along with an anti-virus software are essential for every Internet user.
The Internet is also a great tool to learn about increasing your privacy and securing private information. Check the privacy resources section for some other excellent links. A book like the Complete Idiot's Guide to Internet Privacy and Security can also be a valuable resource as an online privacy primer.