From "The New Gatekeepers" by Jennifer Lach in the June issue of American Demographics:

You can't blame consumers for feeling a bit paranoid online. With cookies tracking their every click, it's no wonder they're worried about who's capturing their personal information -- and what they're doing with it. A new study of 10,000 Web users by the Graphic, Visualization and Usability Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology found that 71 percent of respondents believe there should be laws to protect privacy on the Internet. A full 84 percent object to content providers reselling information about users to other companies.

Now there may be a way for people to turn their paranoia into profit. It centers around an "infomediary," an online broker that works on behalf of consumers. Much like storing important papers in a safe deposit box, individuals would entrust their personal profiles to an infomediary -- and charge marketers for access to their data. The infomediary would perform dual roles, gatekeeper and agent. . . .

But will consumers trust a startup they've never heard of with all of their personal information? Doubts about security could plague new companies that promote even the most stringent policies on privacy. "In principle, it's possible to have honest brokers between a person and a corporation," says Amitai Etzioni, a social scientist at George Washington University and author of "Limits of Privacy." "But you have to ask the question Plato raised: Who's going to guard the guardians?"