By Deborah Gage Print this article Print

Worries about data-mining technologies have appliance manufacturers returning to the drawing boards.

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Microsoft's Passport Scares People

For example, Microsoft's ability to use its Passport authentication service to track customers' movements from Web site to Web site is not illegal, and could be useful in smoothing e-commerce transactions involving multiple companies. But it tends to scare people. As a result, Microsoft in August agreed to let the FTC mon- itor Passport for 20 years to ensure it crosses no legal line. Meanwhile, Gotta points out that Java, the Internet software developed by Sun Microsystems, provides the same capability.

Software tools that help businesses handle privacy issues are still scarce. IBM last month introduced one of the first, Tivoli Privacy Manager. The software, still in its beta version, arrives nearly a year after IBM formed a Privacy Management Council with some of its customers and announced research to develop privacy technology.

IBM's software is intended to help companies think about privacy systematically, and then monitor whether they are complying with their customers' preferences.

Companies in some regulated industries, like health care and financial services, have appointed chief privacy officers (CPOs), and one bill in Congress would have government agencies doing the same. Some companies are building internal organizations headed by CPOs—often lawyers—which are designed to outlast any specific privacy incident, and are similar to the organizations companies created to assess their vulnerability to the Y2K millennium bug.

CPOs sometimes work in conjunction with chief security officers, Gotta says, monitoring court decisions and bills in Congress to figure out which privacy practices are being addressed. "It's not so much 'What industry is being targeted?' but thinking, 'Could that scenario apply to me?' " he says.

But setting up the software to support this effort is not easy. IBM is still working out with customers how Tivoli's monitoring agents might interact with various applications without bogging down systems.

Fixing that won't make the issue go away, though. "Even if you do put the privacy logic in the application, the burden is still on the customer to make sure that SAP and PeopleSoft and Microsoft and so on all have the same privacy policy," says IBM product manager Phil Fritz.

Whirlpool, meanwhile, will introduce new, scaled-back appliances into Playa Vista. Residents won't be learning to cook by watching a celebrity chef prepare dishes on their refrigerators' Web tablets, or using those tablets to hunt for recipes on the Web. But they will be able to program a Whirlpool Polara range to refrigerate a casserole, bake it, and then cool it back down if they're late for dinner. Internet connections are coming, says Whirlpool's Kline—but no date has been set.

—Additional reporting by David F. Carr

This article was originally published on 2002-11-06
Senior Writer
Based in Silicon Valley, Debbie was a founding member of Ziff Davis Media's Sm@rt Partner, where she developed investigative projects and wrote a column on start-ups. She has covered the high-tech industry since 1994 and has also worked for Minnesota Public Radio, covering state politics. She has written freelance op-ed pieces on public education for the San Jose Mercury News, and has also won several national awards for her work co-producing a documentary. She has a B.A. from Minnesota State University.

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