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Source: TechWeb News

Posted on December 18, 2000

      The wireless Web could become the privacy-less Web.

      Most experts acknowledge that it will be difficult to make emerging wireless technologies work together, but it could be even harder to protect the privacy of consumers who use them.

      The U.S Federal Trade Commission, which oversees consumer protection online and offline, gathered industry, government, privacy, and consumer-protection professionals for two days to examine technologies and their implications for privacy and security on the wireless Internet.

      Over the next five years, wireless data in mobile commerce will grow more than electronic commerce did in its first five years, FTC chairman Robert Pitofsky said Monday.

      The question: As technologies converge, what does it mean for identity theft, and how will wireless advertisers make their privacy policies clear and conspicuous over handheld and other small devices?

      The Internet industry has had four years to come up with protections for the consumer over the wired Internet, said Walter Mossberg, personal technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal.

      "There is no privacy and little security on the Web," he said. "The extent to which the wireless Web, location-based services, and user profiling become economically important and marketable, you will have the same kind of irresistible pressure from people ranging from the worst sort of hucksters to the most honest businesses to try to sell you things based on that."

      The goal for wireless computing is to make it so pervasive that any data can move over any network to any device anywhere, said William Bodin, senior technical staff member in advanced technology and research at IBM's Pervasive Computing Division. IBM Corp. is working on standardizing a tool set for customer devices, he said.

      "We want to invest in one application and be able to move that application to another device, such as set-top box, PDA, and vehicle location device, and preserve the original investment," Bodin said.

      Wireless communications will be very important, but will take longer than industry estimates, Mossberg said.

      "Everything about it is being grossly over-hyped, just as was true of the Internet, and it's still true of the Internet, and even of the PC itself," he said.

      Wireless communications will not work as well as manufacturers and service providers say they will, and they will be a source of considerable frustration at least over the next five years, Mossberg said.

      "And I will absolutely guarantee that the wireless Internet will be saturated with the worst sort of marketing pitches, both in terms of how annoying they are, how ineffective they are for the shareholders of the company trying to market things, and how much they will clog the bandwidth which is very limited for the things you really want," he said.

      The U.S. government blundered two or three decades ago when it did not set a technical standard for wireless phones, he said.

      As a result, "we have this unending competition for a basis standard," he said.

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