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Privada Offers Online Privacy, at a Price >BY Rachel Chalmers.

San Jose, California-based startup Privada Inc has announced Web Incognito, a service designed to let users surf anywhere on the net without disclosing their personal information. The service will cost users $5 per month but might save them something they value more; their privacy. "With self-regulation moving the industry at a snail's pace, we at Privada feel that the internet community shouldn't have to wait any longer for privacy protection," said CEO Barbara Bellissimo. "Web Incognito uses the latest proxy and encryption technologies to put these personal decisions back in the hands of the people."

Ordinarily, web server logs will tell administrators the IP address of visitors, what operating system and browser they are using, what plug-ins are installed, the date and time on their own systems and the name and contact details of whoever registered their domain name. If the user hasn't disabled the identifying features in Windows 98 and Intel's Pentium III, there is even more unique information up for grabs. By contrast, Web Incognito withholds everything but the IP address of the Privada Network. Users can take advantage of cookies, but their own identity is not disclosed. The service uses the Java-based PrivadaProxy client, which encrypts and compartmentalizes user information. Cookies are managed on a Privada network server. Users can block or delete them, and can use them from whichever personal computer they happen to be using.

According to the Georgetown Internet Privacy Policy Survey, some 87% of net users are worried about how their personal information is handled online. The obvious problem with Privada's model is that it centralizes trust. Instead of having to worry about every web site purloining private information, users of the Privada network only have to worry about one. That one site is the Privada Network itself. The company admits that it will hand over identifying information to law enforcement officials with the appropriate warrants.

"Our service is for protecting the privacy of consumers, not for hiding criminals or criminal activities," Bellissimo told the New York Times. "We felt it would be irresponsible not to give law enforcement agencies the information if they had valid warrants." Law-abiding consumers will have nothing to fear, of course, but the privacy protection features of Privada will have little value to political activists under repressive regimes. What $5 per month buys is the freedom to spend more money.
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Publication:Computergram International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 17, 1999
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