Companies back new Web privacy standard

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More than 60 marketing, media and technology companies are backing a new standard for personalizing Web sites without invading users' privacy. The standard, proposed by Netscape Communications Corp., Firefly Network and Verisign, allows Internet users to store a profile of themselves on their computer and to know when a particular site is seeking personal information. The user can then disclose or withhold information at will.

Dubbed the Open Profiling Standard, the system is designed to allow consumers to store a single profile containing such things as their name, address, ZIP code, phone number, age, marital status, interests and user ID or password. Sites that support OPS pledge to assure user privacy by warning them when they are seeking personal information.

Backers include American Express Co., Accipiter, NetGravity, The New York Times Electronic Media Co., Lycos, Hearst HomeArts, J. Walter Thompson USA and Modem Media. The standard is viewed as a step beyond "cookies," a personalization tool that has drawn criticism because users don't always know what information is being collected.

The announcement of the proposed standard comes just two weeks in advance of major Federal Trade Commission hearings concerning consumer privacy. It must be presented to the World Wide Web Consortium and then approve, a process some observers say may take months.

Copyright May 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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