Software developer zeroes in on privacy

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A canadian technology company is launching a $30 million U.S. campaign to position itself as the consumer's advocate on privacy. It's betting that Web sites will see wisdom in doing business with a company that vows to put consumers first.

Zero-Knowledge Systems this week begins a campaign in a dozen publications including Fortune and The Industry Standard with what President Austin Hill calls "a consumer manifesto." Ads show children adorned with bar codes, with the message: "I am not a piece of your inventory. . . . I am an individual and you will respect my privacy. . . . I will not be bartered, traded or sold."

"On the Net," ads conclude, "I am in control."

Ads were done in-house. Zero-Knowledge, based in Montreal, is close to hiring a U.S. agency to handle print and a TV campaign later this year.

`STOP ABUSING MY PRIVACY'

Zero-Knowledge since December has marketed one product, Freedom (www.freedom.net), downloadable software that gives consumers pseudonyms to search the Web, chat and do e-mail and to control what cookies they receive. It sells pseudonyms, or "identities," in packs of five for $50; each identity is good for one year before it must be renewed.

"The message is clearly to busineses: stop abusing my privacy," Mr. Hill said. But Zero-Knowledge is hardly anti-business. Over time, he expects most of his revenue will come from selling "privacy infrastructure" services to sites. The sites then could promote their adherence to Zero-Knowledge standards.

Zero-Knowledge says it's raised $37 million in venture capital.

"Privacy issues are a fact of life, [and] Zero-Knowledge is dedicated to making sure that we solve those privacy problems and that we focus on the individual," Mr. Hill said.

He wouldn't say how many consumers have signed up. That, he said, is private information.

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