Wave of Hi-Tech Products Protects Privacy, Children

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Hi-tech marketers are tapping into the increasing public concern over online privacy and have come out with a slew of software solutions designed to allay fears and, perhaps, position themselves ahead of their competitors.

Three of the newest products announced this week include Enonymous.com, a consumer protection utility and privacy seal program from Enonymous.com Corp., San Diego; Game Deputy, a children's entertainment monitoring system from Deputy Inc., Dallas; and Digitalme, a sophisticated personal data maintenance system unveiled this week at Fall Internet World in New York by Novell Inc., Provo, UT.

A fistful of other solutions are in the works such as Passport, a major-branded initiative from Microsoft Corp., Redmond, WA, which is expected to give consumers the option of manipulating their personal information between Web sites. There also are software programs available that protect the proprietary privacy of business records by recording and analyzing employees' computer keystrokes. Service solutions, including Provado, Freedom and Privaseek, help consumers manage and create new identities with various privacy constraints built in.

Michelle Slack, an analyst for Jupiter Communications, New York, said public concern is increasing. However, she said consumers are "all over the map" in their understanding of the privacy debate, which encompasses medical and children's issues, as well as policy debates over the international security and maintenance of Net technology.

"I view privacy and security as two separate things," she said. "Security is more often talked about regarding protection of data, which is an element of privacy, but I think security is more about protecting the monetary link. Most consumers think about privacy as something they should be concerned about only regarding marketing purposes."

Distinctions aside, something associated with supply and demand has led to the development of a mountain of privacy products. But how big the business of protecting, managing or monitoring people's privacy is going to get is unclear. Some point to the fear of the unknown as the market's driving force at the moment - particularly where Web sites, credit cards and personal interests come together. And each new privacy product that comes along seems destined to exploit every niche of concern that a consumer could have.

For instance, Enonymous alerts consumers about Web site information and practices as the user surfs the Internet. "We're putting control back into consumers' hands through a series of privacy-driven products and services," said David Taylor, CEO at Enonymous. "Until now, Internet users have had to accept that taking part in the Web, by definition, involves a loss of privacy."

Of course, direct marketing industry leaders have grumbled privately that consumers can't really lose what they never had. They congratulate lobbyists for having been largely successful in convincing lawmakers to resist advocates' demands, which some believe to be overly alarmist, even anti-business in their motivation. But when it comes to protecting children, human rights leaders say the industry has a long way to go.

In the meantime it appears that competition for privacy products is here to stay. As Bob Wright, founder/CEO of the Deputy Inc. children's game monitoring software said, "Parents have told us they want tools to help them." He said his industry peers can either get proactive on issues such as game violence or face government intervention.

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