Online Privacy Standards to Get Airing

Article excerpt

A week after Netscape announced its privacy initiative for wary Web users, archrival Microsoft is ready to back another plan.

And those are only two of the proposals being rolled out in advance of Federal Trade Commission hearings on Internet privacy.

The companies want to convince consumers and regulators that they can protect personal information on the World Wide Web and that legal fixes aren't needed. The flurry of activity stems from a threat last year by FTC Commissioner Christine Varney that the Internet industry can expect either regulation or legislation unless substantial progress is made on setting privacy standards. Last week saw the announcement of Netscape Communications Corp.'s Open Profiling Standard, a proposal supported by 60 high-tech companies. The common format would enable Web surfers to stop personal information from being sent automatically from their personal computers to Web site operators. The Netscape standard focused on the ability of Web sites to plant nuggets of information - known as "cookies" - into a user's PC. These data files can track which Web sites are visited, what pages are looked at, even a user's hobbies, then link the data to people's names and addresses. Site owners can sell the information without the consent or knowledge of users. It's the possibility of that kind of aggregation of information that concerns Internet users - enough so that many told a Georgia Institute of Technology survey they deliberately give fake information when required to fill out forms before they can get to a Web site. …