Debra Valentine


The Internet is a remarkable tool, providing millions of users easy access to a wealth of information, goods, and services. Its extraordinary growth is propelled in part by exponential growth in the online consumer market. Between early 1997 and December of that year, the number of adults online in the United States and Canada climbed from 51 to 58 million. Of those users, approximately 75% reported that they had shopped for product information on the World Wide Web and 10 million had actually purchased a product or service online. Analysts estimate that Internet advertising-- which totaled approximately $ 300 million in 1996--will swell to $ 4.35 billion by the year 2000.

As the Internet expands, so does the potential to acquire and exploit personal information. American businesses have always, of course, collected some information from consumers to facilitate transactions. The Internet is unique, however, in its ability to compile vast amounts of information with great efficiency at low cost. Computers log our answers to questions about personal preferences, favorite activities, family structure, Social Security number, occupation, medical history, income bracket, and credit card number.