Privacy Solutions Touted

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates said he believes technology can solve many of the privacy woes caused by the Internet.

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates said he believes technology can solve many of the privacy woes caused by the Internet. Gates set out to prove the point at his companys first security summit, SafeNet 2000, here last week. Microsoft is trying to establish some leadership in what it calls the "trust" issues: security and privacy.

The event, which drew some of the countrys leading security experts, was also designed to get industrywide "consensus" on what issues need to be addressed.

In the privacy realm, Gates focused less on policy and more on advances such as software agents, tiny programs that automate tasks like categorizing and prioritizing e-mail, to protect users privacy. "The issue of freedom from intrusion is an area where a huge contribution can be made by software," he said.

Gates also highlighted the P3P (Platform for Privacy Preferences) specification, which, when implemented by Web sites, creates a standard privacy policy that users can assume entails a certain level of technical security. The World Wide Web Consortium developed the specification.

Gates ran a demonstration that showed Internet Explorer distinguishing between P3P-enabled and non-P3P-enabled sites and doing different things with them because of that capability, such as blocking cookies at one site but not the other. IE 6.0 also has an icon that, when clicked, displays a sites privacy policy in plain English—if the site is P3P-enabled. The P3P-based system divorces cookie blocking from the type of cookie and instead relates it to the Web sites policy on cookie use.

John McCarthy, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass., was dubious about how effective or even legal P3P could be in a speech he titled "The Internet Privacy Migraine." "P3P alone wont work," McCarthy said. "In fact, my fear is it will spook people. How will they react every time they see the red light on their browser because a site isnt P3P-enabled? Can sites even do it? And is this legal? "

Gates and McCarthy also disagreed on the governments role in privacy in the future. While Gates touted a limited enforcement role, McCarthy said believing that there wont be more overlap between online privacy concerns and the government is "naive." He pointed to a Forrester study that showed that more than half of those polled believed the government needs to take action in regard to online privacy.