New York: Nortel's Software to Track Surfers' Habits : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread


Wednesday, January 31, 2001

Nortel's software better at tracking surfers' habits Privacy advocates critical of new powers By BRUCE MEYERSON-- The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- Nortel Networks unveiled an online technology that would let network operators keep track of where and how individuals use the Internet.

The Canadian company said Tuesday its new line of "Personal Content" network software will make it easier to customize online services to individual preferences and needs, but some consumer advocates attacked it as a potential invasion of privacy.

Either way, new software tools like Nortel's are meant to help network service providers grapple with the ever-growing crush of Web traffic as more people and companies incorporate the Internet into daily activities, adding to demand for heavy-duty services such as streaming video and audio.

The challenge is to make networks more efficient and swifter by using a person's location, type of device and preferences to identify an appropriate source, format and route for delivering information.

Nortel, a leading supplier of network switches and routers that direct traffic on telephone networks and Internet backbones, is targeting a full range of communications service providers, including companies that produce Web content and streaming media, and those that keep Web sites running and distribute content to users.

"If you want to do content distribution, you place data centers around the world and place the content closer to the end user," explained Clay Ryder, an industry analysts for Zona Research in Redwood City, Calif.

"But if the closest data center is clogged, the next closest one would be tapped," by Nortel's equipment, said Ryder. "It would appear that they are trying to provide the best path or route for getting content to the user."

Despite such potential benefits, privacy advocates were critical of the powers Nortel's products would give Internet service providers.

"The idea that ISPs are watching where (customers) go is unacceptable," said Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters, a privacy protection organization.

Nortel quickly brushed aside such criticism, arguing that the new technology actually can be used to enhance privacy by letting a service provider shield user information from being collected at every Web site a person visits.

Instead of clicking privacy options on each Web site or using "suppression" software to hide information while roaming the Web, a person might now establish privacy preferences with a single network service provider, said Anil Khatod, president of global Internet solutions for Nortel.

"There's already a lot of information about you being collected every time you log onto the Internet. The question is where you place a block," said Khatod. "What we are doing is giving that information to your service provider, and you can negotiate with your service provider as to how much privacy you want. It gives you greater control over what personal information you are allowing the network to have."

Catlett, however, rejected that approach.

Network equipment suppliers like Nortel "are pushing into the infrastructure a technology that can be very, very damaging to privacy, and in some way shirking their responsibilities by saying it's up to the people we sell it to to implement it in a suitable manner," he said.

Ryder, the Zona analyst, disagreed.

"I don't see this as a security issue. People have to wake up to fact that there isn't any anonymous usage of any communications services. They have to get over that."

-- Rachel Gibson (, January 31, 2001

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