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Net privacy proposal launched

Netscape, Firefly, VeriSign, and 60 other vendors propose a global standard for safely sending user profile data across the Net.

Netscape Communications (NSCP), Firefly Network, VeriSign, and other leading Net technology providers have proposed a global standard for sending and receiving personal information across the Net.

As previously reported by CNET's NEWS.COM, late Friday, the companies today announced the Open Profiling Standard (OPS), an architecture intended to let Web sites collect surfers' private data--from their user name to their hobbies, with their consent, to build custom content or services.

Such a standard could allow Web sites to create information services that are tailored more closely to individual tastes. For example, an online bookseller could automatically generate a virtual bookshelf containing only mysteries.

Currently, Web sites use a variety of methods to collect Net users' data, including "cookies," a technology that keeps track of a user's activity on a site.

OPS would go a step beyond cookies, providing a method that would allow a surfer to store personal information on a PC hard drive, including the user's name, address, zip code, phone number, email address, age, marital status, interests, and passwords.

That will allow users to log on new sites without having to fill out cumbersome registration forms. Only sites that support the standard would be able to obtain the profile information from the user's computer.

The user can edit the encrypted profile on the hard drive. While surfing, people can withhold information from certain Web sites and be notified as to what profile data a site is requesting, according to the proposal.

Later this week, Netscape will submit a draft of the proposed standard to the World Wide Web Consortium, which helps oversee the development of global standards for the Internet.

The profile standard is based on existing technologies, vCards, and digital certificates. vCards are electronic business cards that can be attached to email to easily exchange personal data. Digital certificates act as digital passports, providing proof of a user's identity.

More than 60 companies will support the standard, including Excite, Oracle, Lycos, Sun Microsystems, and Yahoo!.

Federal Trade Commissioner Christine Varney, the Information Technology Association of America, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and eTRUST also endorsed the standard.