Weaving Web privacy

The Web can be a crapshoot for both users and information providers. Two new products provide a degree of security at both ends of the Web spectrum.

The Web is an enormous library of digital documents, with a collection of knowledge that rivals any other single repository of information in the world. It's an invaluable tool for researching just about any topic, and for sharing the information that you have developed.

But the dual issues of privacy and the safekeeping of intellectual property continue to dog both Web users and the purveyors of information. Two products shown this week at Comdex in Las Vegas attempt to address these for both the on- and the off-ramps of the information highway.

ImagineLAN's P. I. Protector Mobility Software gives Web users an added dose of privacy and convenience. The compact program can be stored on any USB storage device such as one of the popular memory keys. You plug in the key, make a few clicks and the software sets itself up. While you browse the Web, instead of storing pages, saved links, and other information to the PC you're using, Mobility tucks all that info away on the memory device. When you unplug, no traces of Web wanderings remain on the machine you were using; but if you plug the key into another PC, everything you did and everywhere you roamed can be accessed and restored from the key.

Mobility can also make your e-mail environment portable. If you use Outlook Express, before you hit the road, Mobility will download all of your Outlook Express settings--and mail, if you choose--to the memory key. Then, you can pop the key into a kiosk, business center, or other shared PC and restore your complete Outlook Express environment, do all your e-mail business, and then take it all with you--again without leaving a trace on the machine you used. The software also has a file synchronization facility so that you can easily transport the files and folders you're working on and then update the originals on your office PC when you return.

LinkData approaches information protection on the Web from the other end--from the perspective of those who post their research, data, and other intellectual property on public or private Web pages. The company's HTMLCops application will encrypt any HTML-format information and a variety of graphics formats, including GIF, JPEG, and PDF. You can encrypt entire pages or only specific page sections. Users need to download a customized version of Internet Explorer to be able to view the pages--but they still can't copy the text and images they're viewing.

Right now you need the custom version of IE to read HTMLCops-protected pages--a requirement that may be a bit cumbersome in certain situations. But LinkData is working on new version of the product which will require only an IE plug-in--a small piece of software that can be downloaded and applied to anyone's personal copy of IE.

Still, in its current form, HTMLCops is being used by large companies to ensure the accuracy of internal documents and intranet information and to make sure that data stays within the company.

Would you consider encrypting your intranet Web pages for the sake of privacy? TalkBack below or e-mail us.