Those who cruise through cyberspace need to be aware of the risks as well as the rewards.

Yes, it's very easy to get information from the Internet. Conversely, it's simple to get information about those who hop aboard the Internet Express. That's because people who visit leave a trail.Open a newspaper and look at it and, once it's closed, nobody knows what articles the reader read or what pictures or advertisements were viewed. That's not the case with the Internet. The sites one visits, even for brief investigation, are recorded.

That may not bother some people, but to others it's an invasion of privacy - particularly when that information is widely dispersed to various organizations and companies. It becomes a battle of privacy vs. convenience.

Internet shoppers in particular are targets for marketers. And making purchases on the Internet is a trend that's going to increase substantially. Those who make repeat shopping visits to virtual merchants may find the various Web sites making suggestions about future buys suited to visitors' particular interests.

Sites can do that because computer database systems allow them to get to "know" their guests. Sites can remember what the visitor has purchased before. They even remember what the visitor looked at but did not buy.

To some, the convenience of such personalized service is a plus, keeping them from wasting time through needless Net surfing. To others, knowing personal information is being kept, many times involuntarily, and wondering how it is being used raises serious questions about privacy.

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A Federal Trade Commission survey conducted earlier this year found 89 percent of all Web sites collect some form of private information from consumers. Only 14 percent of those disclose they are doing it.

The privacy issue may be shaped voluntarily by the electronic commerce industry or by legislation or both. It is likely to be an evolving issue.

Of course, privacy isn't just an issue with the Internet. Chances are good that commercial data resellers have a record of the names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, credit history, real estate holdings and vehicle ownership of people who have never used the World Wide Web. Use of a credit card leaves a paper trail.

But the Internet makes it easy to obtain what may be deemed private information. Users need to understand that before surfing and not be surprised when virtual salesmen come calling.

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