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Source: National Post

Posted on April 6, 2000

      A top executive from a Montreal-based software maker said yesterday that firms like Nortel Networks, Nokia, Ericsson and other makers of Internet and wireless networking gear are failing to protect the privacy rights of consumers.

      Austin Hill, president of Zero-Knowledge Systems Inc., challenged makers of next generation Internet gear to design and build software and hardware protocols that give consumers new tools to protect and secure personal data when they're participating in online activities.

      "Privacy needs to be one of the issues at the design table. I would say, right now, it's not even an afterthought," Mr. Hill said, speaking to reporters after delivering the keynote address to about 400 attendees at the 10th Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference.

      He said he was particularly concerned with the promise or threat of new wireless networking technology that can combine Internet protocols with global positioning satellite technology. He wonders, for instance, if consumers would be comfortable if marketing groups were able to track the physical whereabouts of a consumer in order to target that consumer with marketing messages suitable for the environment in which they were travelling.

      "I don't want to live in that kind of world," Mr. Hill said.

      Internet-connected fridges, he said, may be great ideas and convenient for consumers, but he said he didn't believe consumers would want information about how much beer they might drink or whether the fridge was stocked with high-fat foods to be accessible through an Internet that didn't have built-in controls for the protection of that private information.

      Zero-Knowledge Systems (ZKS) was founded by Mr. Hill, his brother Hamnett, Jr., the executive vice-president and chief operating officer, and his father Hammie, the firm's chairman and CEO. It has generated significant buzz among Silicon Valley investors and the wired digerati.

      ZKS recently released version 1.1 of its flagship product, Freedom, which promises users the ability to control how and when personal information is divulged to third parties during an Internet session.

      In his speech yesterday, Mr. Hill repeated a theme he believes will be central to the growth of the Internet economy over the next five years: Privacy will be as important to this century as environmental activism and civil rights was to the last one.

      "Privacy is a now a mainstream issue," Mr. Hill said. In the last two years, he said, more than $200-million has been invested in companies working on privacy technology.

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