Programs we download off the internet can have other programs attached to them. These "add on" programs can track the information that you enter into websites.
They are called adware and spyware. According to Sean Hebein, a member of Best Buy's Geek Squad, these are little programs being downloaded onto your computer; a lot of them are without your knowledge. "Basically what they do is install themselves and what they do is monitor keystrokes, whenever you type in your credit card information it monitors that information whenever you type in your phone number, address or even your social security number, all those things are being logged down."
Grand Junction Attorney and Financial Crimes Task Force Member Rick Wagner says that while caution is needed not all the programs are meant to hurt you and you may actually be giving the companies permission to track your use without realizing it. "A lot of times you are approving it without really knowing it because you are agreeing to the terms and conditions, and other times there is no law specifically against it so long as there is no invasion," says Wagner.
So how do you prevent these programs from being installed in the first place? Hebein says that if you really want adequate protection you need to get a good anti–virus program. Best Buy recommends Trend Micro Internet Security 2007. The electronic retailer also recommends Webroot Spy Sweeper.
Even if you aren't concerned with someone intercepting your information, some of the programs can decrease the performance of your computer.
Most of these programs come attached to another free program that you choose to download so as long as the company collecting the information is not being malicious or collecting or distributing sensitive information. It is kind of like the old saying says, nothing is really free. In this case, the price you pay may be sharing some of your online habits with a third party.