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WEB TOOLS DESIGNED TO HELP INTERNET USERS MAINTAIN PRIVACY

Source: The Columbus Dispatch

Posted on June 23, 2000

      Microsoft and other companies yesterday unveiled tools designed to give Internet users more control over how much personal information they divulge.

      The products were introduced amid growing concern about Web sites that secretly track people's online habits and supply the information to marketers.

      Many Web sites create user profiles containing such things as e-mail addresses, favorite books and clothing sizes. These sites often disclose what they are doing, but the privacy statements are hard to find and understand.

      Tools using new standards, known as Platform for Privacy Preferences or P3P, will translate those statements into computerese so users' browsers can easily interpret them.

      The tools also will help squash "Web bugs'' -- invisible objects on Web pages often used for surreptitious tracking.

      Users also will get warnings when they encounter sites without privacy statements. Comparable software will be available for Web site operators.

      With such tools, Web users can direct personal information such as names and addresses only to sites that won't use it for marketing. If a site wants to collect data for marketing, the user will get a warning and the option to leave.

      "Our goal is to have a common language for privacy on the Web,'' said Daniel J. Weitzner, technology and society domain leader for the World Wide Web Consortium, which is developing the standards.

      Some of the tools are available free and immediately; others will be available in a few weeks or months.

      Microsoft will incorporate P3P into versions of Windows operating systems and browsers released after this year.

      P3P won't completely stop Web sites from collecting information.

      The tools will work well only if most Web sites participate. P3P officials know of only 14 sites out of millions that follow the draft language. But the backing of Microsoft, America Online, IBM and other technology leaders could encourage more Web sites to embrace P3P.

      Some privacy advocates are skeptical.

      Horst Joepen, chief executive of WebWasher privacy software in Germany, warned of a "big danger of misuse'' because Web sites can use the loophole to trick users into giving sensitive data.




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