PrivaSeek E-Wallet Protects Privacy

SAN FRANCISCO (06/08/2000) - Securing your privacy on the Internet is a big problem. PrivaSeek Inc. hopes that its PersonaValet 2.0 e-wallet will be the solution. PersonaValet lets you control just what information Web sites can learn about you, and what those sites can do with that information.

But there's a catch: The tool only works with sites that voluntarily agree to cooperate with PrivaSeek. And right now, that's not very many--only three companies have signed on so far. Network Commerce Inc.'s ShopNow.com, SpeedyClick and RMI.net have all agreed to work with PrivaSeek.

Before you can use PersonaValet, you must sign up for Persona, PrivaSeek's free Internet service. The Persona registration form asks for the usual information, and has you chose between three levels of "information sharing," described simply as High, in which marketers get to know everything about you; Medium; and Low, the only setting that gives you any real privacy.

A Wallet With More

After you sign up, you are then eligible to download PersonaValet 2.0. The free software is designed to make your existing browser more convenient.

Appearing in the form of a control bar at the bottom of the browser window, the program offers an assortment of handy but not exactly revolutionary features.

They include a search tool that accesses multiple engines, bookmarks you can access from any computer, and Web yellow pages. Like other e-wallets, the PersonaValet user interface comes with advertising, but you can control it and even shut it off.

Two of any e-wallet's most important functions are filling out forms and logging into password-protected sites--saving you from typing in your address a million times and memorizing countless passwords. And an important question for any program with these features is where it keeps its data. PrivaSeek stores it in an encrypted database, an option most experts consider not quite as safe as putting it on your own PC.

The form-completion function is designed primarily for sites that have partnered with PrivaSeek, but it isn't restricted to these. It will do a best-guess fill-in on any Web-based form. Before it fills in the blanks, however, it suggests that you check the site's privacy policy, which is always a good idea.

While the form-filling features are useful, Persona and PersonaValet's true usefulness will depend on other companies agreeing to cooperate. And with only three companies willing to do that right now, PersonaValet's reach is truly limited.

Perhaps Web sites aren't ready to abide by privacy rules set by the user. To tempt them, PrivaSeek is offering to reward such sites with marketing information given willingly by the potential customers themselves. Apparently, most companies prefer the data they can just take from you without your permission.

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