The standards project, called the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P), sets technical specifications so that Web browsers can communicate automatically with Web sites regarding privacy.
In other words, if Net surfers don't want to give their names or email addresses to Web sites that sell the information to third parties, they can specify their preferences in the browser settings. When they encounter a site that does collect names and email addresses, the browser will sound an alarm, said Janet Daly, a spokeswoman for the P3P project.
The technology relieves a person from having to interpret the privacy statements of each Web site visited, she said.
The standard comes at a time when Congress and the White House are increasingly under pressure to develop laws to bolster privacy on the Internet. Public awareness over the issue has spiked in the past several months since online advertising firm DoubleClick touched off a storm of controversy for its plans to match online consumer names and home addresses with Web surfing habits.
The consortium worried that companies would be deterred from supporting the project if they were forced to pay licensing fees to a firm called Intermind, which has patented "push" technology that lets computers automatically send messages to Net consumers.
A legal analysis later found that the privacy software didn't violate Intermind's patent, and the project was allowed to proceed.
Testing of the new standards will take place June 21 at the AT&T Building, 32 Avenue of the Americas in New York. Details for interested Web administrators and developers can be found on the W3C's Web site.