BOB GARFIELD: Some of us, alas, have a particular challenge safeguarding our personal information. We are the universe of media junkies, and I think you know the problem. Somebody forwards you a story from a major newspaper. You click on the link. The page opens up -- but-- before you can read the story, you need to answer some basic but increasingly irritating questions -- your zip code, gender, age, stuff like that. Faced with such a form, you have four options: one, don't read the article. In other words, just don't use sites that require registration. Or, two, go to the newsstand and buy the paper version of the paper. Nobody will bother you for your gender or zip code. Three: lie -- just put in any name or any age, any zip code. Finally, there's four: you can use a number of additional internet resources that help you get around the system. Rachel Metz reported on a few of these resources for Wired News. Rachel, welcome to On the Media.
RACHEL METZ: Thank you. Hi.
BOB GARFIELD: Why do websites need this registration information in the first place? I gather it's simply the price we pay for accessing otherwise free material.
RACHEL METZ: The people that I spoke to do see it to a certain extent as sort of a tradeoff for offering free information. As a writer myself, I know that the content on the sites doesn't just magically appear. Someone has to write it, and you know that it costs money to do that. They can use registration information to show advertisers -- hey, we have this number of readers in this demographic, so you should put ads on our website.
BOB GARFIELD: Well tell me about BugMeNot.com, because it's a fascinating enterprise.
RACHEL METZ: BugMeNot.com is a website that people can use if the want to read websites that require --newspaper websites that require registration, such as the L.A. Times Online, New York Times, Washington Post -- that kind of thing. You can go to BugMeNot.com and type in the URL --say, NYTimes.com -- and it'll give you a login name and a password that you can use. These are submitted by users of the website, so you can make up an I.D. on a website like LATimes.com and then submit it to BugMeNot, so other people can use it.
BOB GARFIELD: So it's kind of like file-sharing, only with logons and passwords.
RACHEL METZ: Kind of. Yeah. And it's only for websites that require registration, but the content is essentially free. So they wouldn't allow you to perpetuate login information for a website that charge users, say, like Salon.com.
BOB GARFIELD: These sites are free, but in effect they're not really free, because your personal information is a commodity that the owners of the sites are using to attract advertising and so forth. So if you're depriving the site of your demographic information, aren't you in effect-- stealing?
RACHEL METZ: I'm not really sure if people that are doing that would consider it stealing, because if you're giving them your accurate information, a lot of people feel like that's giving up something that they shouldn't be having to give up to read about what's happening.
BOB GARFIELD: Hm. Well, I don't think I should pay the exorbitant prices at Cartier for a diamond necklace, [LAUGHTER] but that doesn't give me license to smash the glass and just take it. You're at liberty to use the site or not. There's an asking price, and if you don't wish to pay it, don't pay it.
RACHEL METZ: Yeah. You know, whether or not it's something that people see as right or wrong, my talking with different people that work on the newspaper end actually aren't very concerned about this phenomenon. That did surprise me, but it seems like from their end it's not really seen as a big deal at all. My impression is that the newspapers are pretty confident that the information they are getting is by and large good data, and so having a few people trying to circumvent that is really not a big problem.
BOB GARFIELD: It's a strange and wonderful e-frontier.
RACHEL METZ: Sure. [LAUGHTER]
BOB GARFIELD: Rachel, thanks very much.
RACHEL METZ: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Rachel Metz's story "We Don't Need No Stinkin' Login" is available at Wired.com. Hey Rachel, will listeners need to register to read your story?
RACHEL METZ: No, they will not. They can just go to Wired.com and look it up.