Privacy on mobile Internet debated

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Trying to fix the mistakes of the conventional Internet, leaders of the wireless industry met with federal regulators Tuesday to identify privacy and security problems that will arise as the Internet increasingly goes mobile.

Meeting at the Federal Trade Commission, industry executives used the opportunity to show off their latest wireless services, predict products on the horizon and attempt to head off user worries retarding the growth of e-commerce.

"I think we all recognize that this is a rapidly changing area," said FTC Commissioner Mozelle Thompson. "Accordingly, our responses should be creative, flexible and organic — built with an ability to embrace change."

Senior FTC staffers moderated the panels during the two-day conference.

To comply with a Federal Communications Commission mandate, wireless device manufacturers will begin selling handsets next year that can transmit the caller’s precise location information, accurate to within feet. This is part of the FCC’s "Enhanced 911" plan, set up so emergency crews can find a location even of a caller using a cell phone.

To help offset the cost of sending that data, companies plan to sell advertising and extra services that take advantage of a person’s location.

For example, an advertising company could locate a caller’s location at less than a block from a Burger King and offer a coupon for a free hamburger. Or while using wireless Web services to check movie times, a caller could get an offer for free popcorn at a local theater.

Customers also could request information based on their locations, including traffic and weather reports, as well as local ATMs.

Along with these services, and the new companies popping up to take advantage of mobile-commerce opportunities, executives and watchdog groups are envisioning potential problems, such as a hacker theft of data or a company’s misuse of it to build detailed consumer profiles.

"Is it secure enough to make sure that some kid in Moscow can’t see the last 25 places you’ve been, or the last 25 videos you’ve rented, or the last 50 stock deals you’ve made?" asked Steve Stutman, president of, a new mobile-commerce company.

Just as advertising companies gather information about a person’s past Web use and shopping habits, soon mobile carriers will be able to ascertain where people are standing and be able to add that to their profiles for advertising purposes.

"It’s not just the location-based data, but the accumulation of a person’s details, too," said John Pollard, an executive at, Microsoft’s travel site. "The whole wireless experience brings all kinds of privacy issues — surveillance, spam, profiling — all under one issue."

Possible solutions discussed include using anonymity, getting a customer’s consent before using information, or using less specific location information when it’s not necessary to know exactly where the consumer is. Several companies represented at the conference just need to know what part of a city a consumer is in to provide personalized information, rather than knowing a street address or intersection.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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