W3C publishes draft of privacy spec

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has made public a draft specification for creating software applications that tell Internet users the privacy practices of Internet sites they visit. Applications written to the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) specification would automatically check a Web site's privacy policy, which are embedded in the site. Users could configure their computers so that private information, such as credit card numbers, is transmitted only when a site conforms with policy standards acceptable to that individual user.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has made public a draft specification for creating software applications that tell Internet users the privacy practices of Internet sites they visit.

Applications written to the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) specification would automatically check a Web site's privacy policy, which are embedded in the site, said Joseph Reagle, P3P policy manager. The P3P specification works on the client side in Internet browser software and also can be implemented in server software.

Under the specification, users could configure their computers so that private information, such as credit card numbers, is transmitted only when a site conforms with policy standards acceptable to that individual user. Computers can be configured to always deliver a prompt to let users know when a site asks for privacy information or to prompt them only if the information asked for isn't what they are willing to provide.

The working draft rwill be followed by another version in six weeks, after the W3C has collected user comments about the specification, Reagle said. The P3P then will be put on the consortium's recommendation track, he said, with the expectation that it will be approved by the W3C in September or October and in use in its final form by year's end.

The specification has support from a range of companies, including America Online, AT&T , IBM and Microsoft. It also is supported by Trust-e, a trade group that has developed a symbol for use on sites that reveal their privacy practices to users.

U.S. Vice President Al Gore also has given the specification his support, saying in a statement that the P3P "will empower individuals to maintain control over their personal information" as they use the Web.

The consortium develops common Internet protocols involving interoperability and issues such as privacy. It is an international group jointly run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Laboratory for Computer Science, the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control in France, and Keio University in Japan.

Additional information, including technical details, can be found at http://www.w3.org/P3P/.

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