FTC studies Internet privacy

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The Interactive Services Association and Direct Marketing Association Tuesday unveiled guidelines for protecting consumer privacy on the Internet.

The guidelines, presented at a hearing of the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, provide extensive recommendations for how marketers and others on the Internet ought to request and use consumer information.

Under the proposed rules, unsolicited e-mail from marketers would have to include a special code that could be identified and screened out by software; also, marketers that provide personal information gathered online would have to offer consumers the opportunity to opt out of such data banks.

The Coalition for Advertising Supported Information & Entertainment, supported by the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers, said marketers should clearly identify themselves; inform consumers whether information gathered will be shared with others; and offer consumers the opportunity to prevent that. The group also urged that consumers be given the right to review and correct personal information gathered.

Implementing any of these guidelines will be a technological challenge. Several groups suggested using PICS, the Platform for Internet Content Selection, a system developed to allow parents to use ratings of Web content to bar access to certain adult-oriented sites. The system can accept multiple ratings for different standards.

Netscape Communications Corp. officials suggested Web sites could use Netscape's "cookie" technology; that piece of code embedded in the Netscape browser can tell Web marketers how to display their sites; it also can be used to track a consumer's path through a particular site. Peter Harter, Netscape public policy counsel, said consumers could be given more control over that section of the software.

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