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Internet privacy and the use of file sharing programs: what you need to know

The use of popular peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing programs may not necessarily prevent your most private and personal information from being compromised. These programs have proliferated over the years and are widely available for a variety of uses, both personal and commercial. According to a report to Congress prepared in May 2005 by the General Accounting Office (GAO) in Washington, D.C., there were in excess of 100 P2P programs available for commercial and non-commercial uses.

The use of P2P programs can expose users to certain risks. These risks include:

  • Exposure to dangerous spyware and adware that has the potential to infect an individual's computer or network
  • The inadvertent release of private information, such as social security information, banking and other sensitive financial data
  • Risk of prosecution under provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998
  • Online monitoring by the government and subsequent criminal prosecution

Information shared via P2P software is not private

While many people who use P2P software to share files across networks believe their online activity is private, this may not be the case.

Many police departments employ computer crime detectives whose sole job it is to monitor illegal online activity - such as illegal P2P file sharing. They do this with the help of internet service providers.

In recent years various types of "spy software" have also been developed. This software allows police departments and the federal government to monitor file-sharing programs for illegal images. The police and government agents monitoring online activity often pose as file-sharers themselves.

If you are using P2P programs, make sure you are not exchanging sensitive - or illegal - information. You never know who is monitoring your online behavior.

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