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Netscape pushes privacy standard

Netscape will next week propose a global standard for transmitting personal information across the Net.

Netscape Communications will next week propose a global standard for sending and receiving personal information--everything from users' names to their hobbies--across the Net.

The so-called open profiling standard lets Web sites collect private data from surfers, with their consent, to build custom content or services, CNET's NEWS.COM has learned.

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, if that's what a shopper wants.

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.

The open profiling standard 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 to 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.

Early next 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.

Federal Trade Commissioner Christine Varney and the Information Technology Association of America are expected to endorse the standard.