Thursday, June 12, 1997, page 15 ---------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Rivals Join For Privacy On Internet Microsoft and Netscape Fear Government Rules ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Compiled by Our Staff From Dispatches AP, Reuters ---------------------------------------------------------------------- WASHINGTON - Microsoft Corp. and Netscape Communications Corp., two of the Internet's biggest rivals, announced an alliance Wednesday aimed at more tightly controlling the personal information that businesses collect about World Wide Web users. The teaming of the two software competitors reflected the heightened concern in the business community that government regulators may impose rules to crack down on privacy intrusions by Internet companies. Microsoft joined a plan that was first proposed by Netscape and two other Internet software companies, Firefly Network Inc. and Verisign Inc., two weeks ago. Their ''open profiling standard'' envisions new Web software that would allow computer users to determine what sort of personal information they are willing to share and with which Web sites. At the heart of the concern are so-called ''cookies,'' which can track a computer user's recently visited Web sites, the pages the user looked at, and even their hobbies, and then link that information to the user's name and address. The owners of Web sites can then sell that information to advertisers and other interested parties without the consent or knowledge of the computer user. The proposal would not do away with ''cookies,'' but would create a format usable on either the Netscape Navigator or Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, which would allow computer users to spell out what information they leave behind at a Web site. On other fronts, Microsoft and Netscape are locked in a fierce battle for supremacy on the Internet, with each company trying to make their own software standards prevail. But the companies' level of concern has been heightened this week during hearings before the Federal Trade Commission, where regulators and privacy advocates have expressed skepticism over voluntary guidelines that businesses have announced to try to head off possible government rules. Of all the proposals presented to the commission this week, the Netscape-Microsoft agreement may stand out because of the unprecedented nature of the alliance. Microsoft and Netscape officials said they had submitted their plan to the World Wide Web consortium, an industry body that sets standards for Internet technology. The FTC plans to use its findings gathered from this week's hearings to determine whether it needs to recommend to Congress that it should enact on-line privacy laws. The participation of the companies is expected to bring added momentum to the proposal. ''We're delighted that Microsoft, Netscape and Firefly have chosen to work together with our staff and other member organizations,'' Jim Miller, leader of the technology and society domain of the World Wide Web consortium, said in a statement. In the two weeks since its unveiling, support for the standards effort has grown to include more than 100 companies.

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