Visa, MasterCard to form SET body

The credit card giants next week are expected to announce a new entity that will let other card brands in on the Secure Electronic Transactions protocol.

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Visa and MasterCard next week are expected to announce a new entity to promote their jointly developed Secure Electronic Transactions protocol, CNET's NEWS.COM has learned.

A source close to one of the card associations said the new body, referred to as SetCo, is likely to add other card brands that have endorsed SET 1.0. The protocol is designed to make credit card purchases over the Internet safe. American Express, Diners Club, Novus, and Air Travel Card have endorsed SET.

Both Visa and MasterCard declined to comment on plans for SetCo, but the source said an announcement may come as soon as next week, after the relevant parties sign a memorandum of understanding.

SetCo also will develop future versions of SET, which is likely to expand to cover smart cards and additional debit card options.

SetCo also will oversee a testing program to assure that software products comply with SET. Companies that pass muster will win the right to use the new SET logo, under a branding program SetCo will administer. Web sites that support SET transactions also are eligible for the logo.

SET is one of a half dozen standards efforts in the Internet commerce area. American Express, for example, is spearheading an online catalog protocol called Open Buying on the Internet; Microsoft, Intuit, and CheckFree have created Open Financial Exchange (OFX), a protocol for home banking and bill-paying on the Net.

But SET differs from other e-commerce specifications in that it addresses the "trust" relationships between buyers, merchants, and financial institutions. The other e-commerce protocols mainly address technical and formatting issues, the traditional stuff of technical standards.

SetCo membership will be open to card companies, but several "technology advisers" will be invited as non-voting affiliates. That parallels the roles that computer firms, including Microsoft, IBM, CyberCash, Netscape and others played in developing SET 1.0.