Standard in works for sharing e-customer data

Leading makers of software for Internet marketing, tracking and analysis are working together to develop a standard for sharing personal information about online customers across different enterprise applications.

The standard, called Customer Profile Exchange (CPEX), would combine online and off-line data about customers, such as information gleaned from catalog sales, into one format. Combining the information would give online retailers an easy way to collect information about customers' backgrounds and preferences. Officials said the standard should be available in the second quarter of next year.

"Mass marketing is dead. New marketing is serving the needs of each customer as an individual," said Steven Snyder, CEO of Net Perceptions, a Minneapolis firm that makes software for e-commerce marketing, and a member of the CPEX working group. The CPEX group has 25 members, including Vignette, and net.Genesis.

But privacy advocates want to put the brakes on practices where online customers don't know what personal information is being recorded or who has access to it.

"They want to create a standard so they can sell everyone's data profiles like hog bellies at the Chicago livestock mart," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Centre for Media Education.

Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters, an advocacy group in Green Brook, New Jersey, called the standard a double-edged sword. "If built with fair practices in mind, it has the potential to make it easier for companies to adopt those practices by having them available instantly in that infrastructure. But because no standard can mandate adoption of those practices, it has the potential to do a lot more [harm] more quickly by enabling the transfer of personal data," he said.

The standard will include privacy guidelines, said Brad Husick, co-chairman of the CPEX group. "It would be naive of us to undertake this without considering privacy as a No. 1 priority," said Husick, who is also vice president of standards at Vignette.

Both the Centre for Media Education and Junkbusters are calling for a ban on customer profile exchanges until the federal government establishes legal protections.

Exploratory meetings on the subject were held Nov. 8 in Washington at the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce. But it's unlikely that any legislation governing privacy rules will be passed soon, observers said.

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