Netscape is proposing an international standard to the World Wide Web Consortium this week, for sending and receiving personal information across the Internet.
The 'open profiling standard' (OPS) will allow web sites to gather secure information on surfers in order to provide more focused services. It will mean users storing personal information on their hard drive, that will be automatically passed onto web sites supporting the standard.
Users will be able to determine, through a pop-up menu, how much information, if any, should be passed on to sites.
The idea behind the plan is to provide information for the marketing people behind the site, without prying into an individual's private life and wasting time filling out registration forms. Under the proposals, web sites will have to declare how the information will be used.
The world of electronic commerce is watching in eager anticipation. According to research by the Boston Consulting Group, assurance of privacy and security over the Internet could boost electronic commerce to $6 billion (#3.8 billion) by the year 2000.
Susan Scott, executive director of eTRUST - set up specifically to "gain trust and confidence" in the Internet as a commerce route - greeted the move with enthusiasm.
Netscape's proposals were backed by Yahoo, IBM, Verisign, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Sun. Microsoft did not add its name to the list.
Is the marketing man the only one who should benefit from the Internet?
Most sites already use small server-based applications, known as cookies, that track a person through the site. Given the option most users would refuse these intrusive cookies, which will not be replaced by Netscape's proposals.
OPS may be a step in the right direction, but cookies are annoying and intrusive. Perhaps Netscape could suggest a less conniving way of obtaining personal data to replace cookies?
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