IT intelligence: Privacy and personalisation

Privacy and personalisation can go hand in hand on the internet.

Websites are much friendlier if they remember who we are when we return to them. It's easier, for example, to buy from Amazon when it remembers our credit card details. But that entails surrendering privacy: the site must remember our information in its database, or at least store it in cookies on our hard drives. It's a risk when identity theft is on the rise.

On the whole, charities are yet to take advantage of this personalised approach. The technology is not expensive - it requires a good database with integration capabilities and a competent website developer - but it still goes against the grain for most charities.

If you want to remain anonymous while using the internet, there are steps you can take, ranging from the easy to the obsessive. First, choose your browser. The latest version of the most popular browser (Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7) contains improved security and privacy tools, including tools for removing personal information from your hard drive. Firefox 2.0 is similarly equipped, but its supporters believe it's safer. You can obtain a completely portable edition of Firefox to run from a USB memory stick without troubling your hard drive at all. Whichever browser you choose (and there are others), make sure you review its privacy settings in the tools or options menu.

Next, you can prevent Google from storing your search history. Google creates a cookie on your hard drive to track searches. You can remove it at regular intervals from your cookies folder. There's also software you can download to automate removal, such as G-Zapper and GoogleAnon.

Finally, you can buy anonymising software, such as Anonymizer and My PC Privacy, which scrambles and anonymises your online experience, but you need to be comfortable with online purchases to do so.

• Robin Fisk is managing director of software company Fisk Brett.

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