Getting anything done on the Internet is all about advertising. As resentful as people are that the advertising that comes at them is constant, is privacy-robbing and obtrusive, it does bankroll the services out there that we use. Today, premier services cost you money; but what if you were given a choice to either pay, or give them enough personal information to allow them to target relevant advertising at you? The advertisers would pay the website for the ability to target advertising at you, because they would have a better chance at making a sale. In the future, privacy will no longer just be a simple box you can casually leave checked by default. It will be something that will end up either saving you money, or costing you. If you choose to have a lot of privacy, the website may well ask you for a $5 subscription. Your privacy or the lack of it, could be your credit card; and your privacy could mean different things, depending on what part of the Internet you were visiting.

Social networks always had a hard time trying to protect your privacy while encouraging you to share as much with your online friends at the same time, to make for a more enjoyable social networking experience all around. Protecting your privacy has become more difficult now ever since real-time search entered the Facebook equation.Facebook has tried every kind of balance between privacy and openness, and still doesn’t seem to be quite comfortable.

The policy adopted by Tumblr, Twitter and Yelp over privacy when you are on these networks ask that you only put out anything on the services that you don’t mind having everyone hear about. Location-based apps like Foursquare and Loopt are services that have the luxury of not really needing a formal privacy policy. If you are on these, you’re supposed to want to share freely. Privacy is the currency these services use too; although there is really no need for it. You only get to look into others’ lives, as far as you let them into yours. And everyone is supposed to share freely. Indeed, Foursquare is set to become the Twitter of this year. Twitter got people addicted to sharing the banalities of their everyday lives. Foursquare gets people addicted sharing with everyone the places they’re going to all the time.

The only real guarantee to privacy is not in any policy anymore; it is about self-restraint in curiosity over other people’s private lives. You only need to share anything if you wish to look into other people’s lives yourself. But when the entire point of a service is the fun of giving up any semblance of privacy, why have a privacy policy at all? If it helps everyone save money?

When people in the 90s sat down for the first time to sign up to their first e-mail account, they would typically take the password part of the form either very seriously or completely casually. The very serious would dream up an impossible mish-mash of numbers and letters to keep safe from spies. The more regular types among us would treat the password as a joke – who would it even occur to, to want to hack into our worthless accounts? Why not pick 12345, we would wonder. As people got more and more inured to the dangers of poor security on the Internet, websites and e-mail services began to require that people used six characters at least, with at least one number. So now, Internet security has been raised immeasurably to the use of abc123.

A couple of months ago, a company called RockYou, that makes software for the social networking sites, made a mistake and allowed a hacker to copy and publish their entire database of tens of millions of passwords. It wasn’t online for very long before it was taken down, but lots of people interested in computer security, managed to download a copy. No one has ever had this kind of window into the password habits that people have. You have to be in law enforcement to have access to something like that. As for insight, students and computer antivirus experts pored over the lists – and they quickly found that of all those millions, one in 100 just used 123456 as password, and an equal number did 12345. Lots of people used their girlfriend’s first name, or a popular car model name. There was a collection of 5000 very common passwords that were used by one in five.

All that a hacker would need then is, an automated program that can try the 5000 passwords one by one, until something hits. If making more than three wrong guesses within three minutes locks them out of an account, they’ll have the program just make no more than two attempts at a time, and come back after three minutes. It’s not like they don’t have millions of accounts to try to break into while they’re waiting. People don’t really need to make the best and strongest passwords out there to stay safe; they only need to be somewhat better than people who choose elementary passwords. They only need to stay one step ahead of the simpletons. When there are so many of them to be caught, why would any hacker want to waste his time guessing a slightly more difficult password?