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3 Net Leaders to Propose Privacy Standard

Cyberspace: The move by Netscape, Firefly and Verisign could provide a boost for commerce on the Web.

May 26, 1997|From Times Wire Services

Netscape Communications Corp. and two other leading Internet companies are proposing a standard for handling the use of private information over the Internet, a move that could boost electronic commerce over the Web.

Representatives of Netscape, Firefly and Verisign said they have already won widespread support for the proposal, a draft of which is to be released Tuesday.

The proposal would allow universal Web site registration, saving individuals the trouble of filling in information about themselves again and again. For Web sites, the specification allows tracking the demographics of people who visit the sites and tailoring information to individuals.

The standard is designed to encourage Web-based merchants to be clear about their privacy policies, and to post them on their sites, the companies said, while still making it possible for individuals to limit the use and distribution of the information.

A study by the Boston Consulting Group released in March estimated that instituting measures to provide assurance of privacy over the Internet could boost electronic commerce by $6 billion by 2000.

"It's really the first step of an important new development for Internet commerce and the Web," said Eric Brown, an analyst at research group Forrester Research.

"Everybody wants to create personalized environments and also most people are concerned, or they should be concerned, about personal privacy," he said. "The two trends are to some extent in conflict with each other."

The proposed Open Profiling Standard would give each individual control over their own personal profiles and the ability to manage which personal information gets disclosed or withheld from a particular Web site.

The profile data can then be used to provide targeted information, products and services directly to individual users, while allowing them also to be notified every time their profile information is being requested.

Personal profiles contain information ranging from names, addresses, ZIP Codes and phone numbers to marital status, interests, hobbies and passwords.

Individuals also could allow certain sites to exchange the data with other Internet parties, giving rise to the possibility of a whole market for electronic profiles similar to existing demographic data businesses.

People may also choose to have different profiles for business and home use, for example, and perhaps additional profiles for what one expert described as "the darker side," to receive pornographic material, for instance.

A draft of the new proposed standard will be filed this week with the Worldwide Web Consortium, or W3C, for consideration and debate--a process expected to take months to complete.

"We think its a good first step," said Susan Scott, executive director of eTRUST, an organization formed to establish trust and confidence in electronic transactions which monitors online privacy and develops guidelines.

Hewlett-Packard Co., American Express Co., International Business Machines Co., SportsWire USA and New York Times, along with privacy groups like EFF, are supporting the proposal.

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