Cybernaut 

Consider the source

"Too much information, running through my brain. Too much information, driving me insane."

The Police wrote those lyrics in the early 1980s, a full decade before there was an Internet to fill in any gaps that might have existed in all the information they had in Sting's day.

Humanity has never had as much access to as much information as we enjoy with the Internet. Not just current events either, although you can find almost every major newspaper and news network on the Web - there are online dictionaries, encyclopedias, text books, libraries, and lessons. Pick a topic, any topic, and you can become an authority on it in half an hour.

The problem is that you really can't believe everything you read, no matter how artfully or professionally it is presented. You should always consider the source.

In a well-publicized study released last week by Consumers International, a confederation of more than 250 organizations in 115 countries, the Internet is batting around .500 when it comes to credibility.

In their examination of 460 well-travelled Web sites they found that 49 per cent of health and financial sites didn't advise users to consult professionals before acting on the information.

They discovered that about half of medical and financial sites failed to provide the credentials of the people and authorities providing advice and information.

About 39 per cent of sites that collected personal information did not have privacy policies protecting that data.

In addition, 62 per cent of sites included vague or unspecific claims that were not backed up by any hard data, studies, or independent review.

Some 30 per cent of sites did not include addresses or phone numbers.

Lastly, 60 per cent of sites hid their own sources - they do not tell consumers if their content is influenced by commercial interests or advertisers.

It's a fact of life. People and organizations want to sell you things, tell you things, and influence your opinions and patterns. Impartial, unbiased views are hard to come by these days.

Consumers who are constantly bombarded with sales pitches and solicitations from all sides, are generally suspicious of agendas, so it's understandable why Web sites would try to keep their agendas hidden.

It's also a subjective medium. There's no real censorship, and you don't need to be able to prove the validity of your information before you put it on a Web site. Even professionals like doctors and scientists who can provide proof to back up their statements and advice aren't required to pass it by a higher authority.

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