REP. MARKEY URGES RULES ON ONLINE PRIVACY

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Online services, beware: Rep. Ed Markey is coming down hard on the privacy issue.

Rep. Markey (D., Mass.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance, next year will introduce legislation calling for tough online privacy protection rules. The legislation will require online services to notify subscribers that information is being collected; that it would be offered for sale to outside interests; and that users could prohibit the sale of their personal data, a subcommittee spokesman said.

Similar legislation passed the House of Representatives earlier this year, but died in the Senate.

Rep. Markey's tough stance comes as the online industry attempts to cobble together a privacy code of its own. But the congressman has given notice that he's not waiting on it.

Last week, Rep. Markey issued the results of a privacy questionnaire sent to online services.

The responses were a mixed lot. America Online, target of a Markey attack earlier this month for running an ad offering a subscriber list for sale, acknowledged offering lists of names, addresses and computer information, but not user interests. CompuServe said it rented lists based on subscriber interests.

Among the services that said they didn't sell lists were Prodigy Services Co.; Dow Jones & Co.'s Dow Jones News/Retrieval; ProductView Interactive; New York Times Co.'s news service/syndication unit; and Delphi Internet Services Corp.

In addition, Microsoft Corp., Apple Computer and Ziff Communications Co., developer of the Interchange Online Network, said they were developing policies to address privacy concerns.

AOL President Steve Case, in addition to responding to Rep. Markey's inquiry, asked for a meeting with the congressman. Mr. Case noted that Rep. Markey released to the media copies of his inquiry to AOL even as it was in transmission to Mr. Case.

"As you are no doubt aware, there was substantial publicity surrounding your letter to me. ... Some of the reaction was not based on the actual facts, but rather on the misconception that America Online somehow had invaded the privacy of its subscribers and betrayed their trust," Mr. Case wrote. "I believe a personal meeting between us would be useful."

In a statement, Rep. Markey said he would support an industrywide code of conduct.

"I believe strongly that consumers' privacy rights must be one of the first rules of the road for the information superhighway," he said. "I look forward to working with the industry to ensure that industrywide privacy protections are implemented to assure consumers that their privacy rights are respected on the information superhighway."

But Rep. Markey's spokesman left no doubt that legislation would be resurrected.

"This is definitely something that will be reintroduced next year," he said.

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