Viewpoint: User privacy is secure as businesses realize potential

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Over the past few weeks, Digital:Convergence Corp. has been getting quite a bit of coverage in the media--much of it positive, but some of it negative and misleading. Allow me to clear up any confusion and set the record straight.

For those of you who haven't heard about Digital:Convergence, our proprietary :CRQ technology links consumers directly to specific pages deep within Web sites. The business applications are endless, allowing corporations to truly maximize their Internet potential for the very first time.

The CueCat device--the eyes of :CRQ--is the most user-friendly convergence technology available. It is a free, handheld device that uses minimal desktop space. We are already in discussions to integrate the CueCat and the standard mouse into a single device.

National magazines including Forbes, Parade and Wired have incorporated "cues" into their editorial and advertising content, and The Dallas Morning News and [Dallas TV station] WFAA provide consumers with a daily interactive experience. [Editor's note: The Dallas Morning News and WFAA are owned by Belo Corp., which owns 7% of Digital:Convergence.] WFAA is the first TV outlet to introduce the broadcast application, on-air audio cues that send PCs immediately to relevant pages on the Internet without consumer intervention--assuming the users' PC is on. Residents in Denver, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Phoenix and Providence, R.I., soon will be able to enjoy the same experience.

Digital:Convergence is in the midst of one of the fastest and largest deployments of a consumer technology. In one month's time, more than 600,000 American consumers have installed :CRQ technology and have swiped 5.5 million codes. :CRQ technology is working and forever changing the way consumers access relevant information on the Internet.

'MISINFORMATION'

Now, a few key points to clarify misinformation about privacy:

• Our users' privacy is as important to us as it is to the user. We have one of the strongest privacy policies on the Internet.

• Registration requires the user's name, e-mail address, zip code, gender and age range. Names and e-mail addresses, the only unique features of a registration, are used to create an anonymous ID that replaces the user's true identity.

• The anonymous ID is then separated permanently from the name and e-mail address, thus protecting, not invading, users' privacy.

• Aggregate data only, namely Zip codes, genders and age ranges, are used to create general profiles. This allows us to tell The Dallas Morning News, for example, how many city residents have installed the technology without saying who in Dallas has actually installed. To further explain our data collection process, we have updated our software with a highly visible pop-up screen.

FUTURE POTENTIAL

At this stage, the value of our technology should be measured by its future potential. The Dallas Morning News and WFAA were the first to demonstrate the power of daily usage. Nearly 90 TV stations and 25 newspapers are ready to follow their lead. Since there was never a reason for most companies to link their products to Web pages, the miracle of our technology should be judged by the connection of products to pages, not to what is currently there upon linkage. We are in the final stages of licensing our technology to some of the largest companies in the world who are now prepared to invest in richer Web content because they know they can finally drive traffic deep into sites that, for all practical purposes, people could not reach before.

We are confident that consumers will see the value in and grow to use our technology in far more applications than available today.

Imagine the future. Publishers will offer students expanded lessons through CueCat-enhanced textbooks. Pharmacists may connect patients to medical advice through prescription codes or drug packaging. Insurance companies could increase members' access to their own accounts with interactive insurance cards. Professionals will send their clients to personal home pages with Internet-enhanced business cards. Political debates on TV could drive online voter registration.

PEN ON THE WAY

The first version of the technology retrofits America in an affordable and accessible manner. In this capacity, the free CueCat device serves as an interim scanner. Shortly, consumers will be able swipe now and surf later with portable versions, including the Cross Convergence Pen, which Digital:Convergence is developing with A.T. Cross. Down the line, the technology will be available to use with almost any device, including mouses, Palms and cell phones.

Our technology is working. It's changing how people access the Internet and the best is yet to come.

Michael Garin is president-chief operating officer of Digital:Convergence Corp.

Copyright October 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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