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Tech Industry

eTrust gets vote of confidence

Consumer-oriented privacy initiative eTrust has picked up key business backing from CommerceNet, a nonprofit e-commerce consortium.

Consumer-oriented privacy initiative eTrust has picked up key business backing from CommerceNet, a nonprofit consortium promoting electronic commerce on the Internet.

In a joint announcement today, CommerceNet and the Electronic Freedom Foundation described plans to cooperate on privacy and security guidelines to promote trust and confidence in e-commerce and communications.

"It's important to build trust on the Internet if it's going to become a marketplace," said Charles Jennings, Chairman of Portland Software and an eTrust backer. "Privacy is one of the main barriers in the road to the success of electronic commerce."

The central element of eTrust will be a logo that Web sites may use on their home page if they agree to basic practices involving disclosure of user information, secure transactions, and authentication. eTrust is likely to embrace other consumer interests later.

Big Six accounting firms Coopers & Lybrand and KPMG Peat Marwick will help administer the eTrust program and audit participating firms for compliance.

A major outreach program involving advertising and publicity will be launched next year after eTrust goes live. A limited pilot program will be tested through the remainder of the year, with the full offering due in 1997's first quarter. Pricing structures will be developed during the pilot phase.

"The eTrust project is critical to building public trust in online transactions," Marty Tenenbaum, CommerceNet's chairman said. "It assures individuals will receive full disclosure on how and where information will be used and gives them the opportunity to opt out of a transaction."

Asim Abdullah, CommerceNet executive director, thinks eTrust could go worldwide. "I envision eTrust as a platform to be localized for different countries," Abdullah said.

The initiative's accreditation guidelines have been drafted by Coopers & Lybrand, Firefly Network, KPMG, and Test Drive.

A steering committee of businesses, auditing firms, and electronic public interest groups will create an open process for establishing and modifying eTrust guidelines.

Key eTrust principles include the following:
--informed consent. Before entering an online transaction, consumers have the right to be informed about privacy and security consequences.
--privacy requires security. Privacy protection requires reliable security. They are inexorably linked in online transactions.
--standards vary according to context. No single privacy standard covers all situations or all participants.

Once operational, eTrust will absorb another privacy initiative called Privacy Assured, which was recently announced and is already up and running.