[ISN] Patent May Threaten E-Privacy

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Thu Nov 12 1998 - 00:42:06 PST

  • Next message: mea culpa: "[ISN] Do Terrorists Troll the Net?"

    Forwarded From: Ama-gi ISPI <Offshoreat_private>
    Patent May Threaten E-Privacy
    Chris Oakes, chrisoat_private
    The future of a key Web standard that would give consumers control over
    their online privacy hangs in the balance after news emerged that a
    entrepreneur will likely be awarded a set of patents on the technology. 
    The technology, the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) is critical to
    the Internet industry's current effort to show the US government that it
    can look after the interests of consumers. The specification was to be
    used in the next versions of America Online, Netscape Communicator,
    Microsoft Internet Explorer, and many other software products and Web
    "If somebody owns [P3P], they can prevent other people from using it,"
    said Deirdre Mulligan, staff counsel for the Center for Democracy and
    "We put all this work into something that works, then who knows if it's
    going to get out there." 
    At the core of the issue is one man, Drummond Reed, CEO of Intermind. Reed
    said that the US Patent and Trademark Office is expected to issue his
    company a patent on the idea of P3P. 
    Intermind [ http://www.intermind.com/ ] was, until July, a member of the
    standards group that is collectively developing P3P. He resigned when word
    spread among the members that he would likely be awarded patents on
    technologies affecting a broad category of "automated information exchange
    using software objects." 
    That sounds very much like P3P. The standard is meant to provide a way for
    consumers and the Web sites they visit to automatically negotiate what can
    and can't be done with any personal data collected by a site. The
    technology would reside within both Web browsers and Web sites. 
    On a document [ http://www.intermind.com/W3CMembers/licensing_summary.htm] 
    on the Intermind Web site, Reed said that his company would request a
    minimum royalty of US$50,000 per year to a maximum of $2.5 million from
    companies implementing P3P, plus 1 percent of all revenues directly
    associated with the technology. 
    Both Microsoft and Netscape declined to comment for this story. 
    "P3P is the nuclear weapon of privacy," said Matt Markus, chief architect
    and cofounder of Privacy Bank, a company developing an automatic
    registration service that safeguards a user's privacy. 
    Privacy Bank shifted its company strategy to lessen its dependence on P3P. 
    Markus said he expects the patent will be revoked. 
    "[The patent] is going to hurt young companies who want to help develop
    the solution," Markus said. "It is the snake in the grass, a complete
    surprise, it would really shoot the morale at my company if I was
    depending on [P3P]," he said. 
    Reed acknowledges that some working group members want "to just crucify
    us" -- but he says his company has been up-front from the beginning that
    it has held intellectual property rights pertaining to P3P and other Web
    standards relating to "push" technology. 
    "We have been in communication with the [Consortium] and working group
    members pretty much from the start," Reed said. "We've been in constant
    communication with W3C management and key member companies involved in
    this area." 
    P3P is not yet a final standard, but progress in the World Wide Web
    Consortium working group has slowed since news of the pending patent
    seeped out in July, according to Steve Lucas, chief information officer
    for an Excite division that has been developing P3P-based software. 
    "There are ways of working around P3P," he said. These include custom-made
    variations on the protocol that circumvent elements covered by the patent,
    and shifting work toward an older protocol known as the Open Profiling
    Lucas said companies are going ahead with work on P3P. But they are
    simultaneously making contingency plans should the patent have a stifling
    effect.  If Drummond's pending patents stand, the thousands of companies
    doing business on the Internet could face new laws designed to protect the
    interests of consumers. The Federal Trade Commission, which would
    recommend such laws, has given the industry until the end of this year to
    demonstrate that it can "self-regulate," and P3P is key to that plan. 
    "Some combination of the [P3P and Open Profiling Standard] technologies
    may be a more transparent way to protect consumers privacy," David Medine,
    an associate director at the Commission told Wired News earlier this year. 
    Daniel Weitzner, who oversees the development of P3P at the World Wide Web
    Consortium, insists P3P development is still on track, but echoed the same
    "If anyone succeeds in extracting big licensing fees for P3P
    implementations, that would hamper the availability of the technology," he
    conceded. "Really the question turns on what happens with that patent." 
    But working on ways to perform privacy negotiations without a standard
    presents a big obstacle to the industry. 
    "Not having a standard everybody can agree on does create some
    interoperability problems," Lucas said. 
    "This is a collaborative process about trying to develop socially useful
    protocols and now we have somebody walking away and saying they own it," 
    added working group member Mulligan of the Center for Democracy and
    Weitzner said the issue now is not who said what when but what to do once
    the patents are issued. He declined to comment on the possibility of
    mistakes made in the past by W3C management. 
    "The issue is whether or not the patent is valid, not who told what to
    whom or when," Weitzner said. "The concern I hear is about the attack on
    openness, not the timing." 
    That issue -- how a patent might affect a Web standard -- is a new one for
    the W3C. 
    "Our members have not had to face this issue because no one has had to try
    to stand in the way of openness in a way that Intermind appears to be
    doing...." The question now is "whether or not they're going to be able to
    hold up a standard that has a potentially significant social impact." 
    James Glave contributed to this report. 
    Subscribe: mail majordomoat_private with "subscribe isn".
    Today's ISN Sponsor: Repent Security Incorporated [www.repsec.com]

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Apr 13 2001 - 13:11:03 PDT