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Firm to debut newfangled Net privacy product

Capitalizing on worries that privacy is at risk on the Internet, a maker of privacy software today is expected to unveil a service that will protect Web users' personal information.

Capitalizing on worries that privacy is at risk on the Internet, a small maker of privacy software today is expected to unveil a service that will allow people to browse the Web without revealing personal information.

Although similar services have been offered for years, Web Incognito, a product Privada is offering to individuals for $5 per month, provides several new benefits, according to the company.

First, it allows users to personalize the Web sites they visit to accept "cookies," or files that are typically stored on the user's personal computer. To eliminate privacy concerns often associated with cookies, however, Web Incognito stores the files on a remote server.

Web Incognito also prevents personal information, such as a user's geographic location, Internet address, and operating system, from ever going out on the Internet without first being encrypted. Most other available services allow the release of this information.

Privacy on the Net has been a consistent cause of concern in both the public and private sectors. Microsoft and IBM said recently they will pull ads from sites that do not post policies that protect people's privacy. Congress and the Federal Trade Commission also have warned that they will step in if private industry does not do a better job of regulating itself.

Until now, people who wanted to prevent Web sites from collecting private information had to use so-called proxy sites such as Anonymizer.com. Used as a jumping-off point, proxy sites block other Web sites from gaining access to user information.

But proxy sites come with drawbacks. For example, proxy sites are typically unable to accept cookies, which can be useful for eliminating the hassle of repeatedly entering passwords.

Web Incognito uses software that resides on the user's PC to encrypt identifying information before it makes its way onto the Internet. Web sites that collect information about visitors see only a Privada Internet protocol address to which the software connects, the company said.

The Privada server also acts as a buffer between the visitor and the Web site, storing any cookies the user may want to accept. This allows people to access personalized Web pages from many different computers because cookies are no longer stored on a single machine.

Individuals pay $5 per month; businesses and Internet service providers that want to offer the service for its subscribers pay a $25,000 installation fee and annual fees. So far, Web Incognito runs only on Windows and Solaris operating systems.