June 20, 2005 1:50 PM PDT

Liberty Alliance tackles phone privacy

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The Liberty Alliance is working on technology to keep cell phone numbers from providers of wireless content such as ring tones, with the aim of protecting people's privacy.

The industry organization, formed to tackle standards for online authentication, on Monday launched a team to develop a specification that will enable mobile carriers to share information with third-party mobile content companies without releasing customers' phone numbers and addresses.

"The purpose of the group is to enable third-party content providers to integrate (services) with mobile carriers without knowing the identity of the users," said Atul Tulshibagwale, a Liberty Alliance member and CEO of Trustgenix, a provider of software for federated identity management.

Once finished, the interface specification for mobile messaging will work with both plain SMS, or Short Message Service, and with MMS, or Multimedia Messaging Service, which is typically used to send images and music. It will let companies deliver wireless content to a handset via the cellular network and use Liberty's Identity Web Services Framework, the organization said.

The push for privacy comes as concern rises over whether content providers are sharing users' information, such as e-mail addresses, with spammers for a fee.

"This business represents a large source of income for mobile operators and content providers alike," Timo Skytta, vice president of the Liberty Alliance and director of Web services at Nokia, said in a statement. "But it also represents a huge opportunity for privacy intrusion and increased spam, since users are exposing their telephone number directly to the content providers, who can then easily give or sell this information to others."

Also, in Europe, laws have recently been passed to prohibit service providers from giving personal information to third parties without the customer's consent.

"In Europe, babies virtually come out of the womb with cell phones. You are closely identified with your number," said John Pescatore, a security analyst with Gartner.

In conjunction with the Liberty Alliance announcement, Trustgenix and cellular carrier Vodafone demonstrated last week a proof-of-concept application that allows mobile customers to order content from providers while withholding their phone number or address.

Analysts noted that a mobile messaging specification could spur the creation of cell phone content, because developers would only need to write one version of the code for all cellular carriers. And, in turn, the specification could help ensure user privacy, leading to a faster adoption rate of the content, said Jonathan Penn, a Forrester Research security analyst.

The Liberty Alliance team includes Ericsson, Symlabs, Telefonica, Trustgenix and Vodafone. While a draft of a specification has yet to be made, Trustgenix expects it will have an application ready for mobile carriers for use sometime next year, Tulshibagwale said.

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Liberty Alliance Cell Privacy
Glad to hear Liberty Alliance, with its solid industry connections and tech expertise, gets the point and is working on cell phone privacy in re marketers etc.

Privacy is a core American value, though EU apparently ahead of us, whether the politicians and courts are yet prepared to acknowledge this or not. There is a significant boundary difference between what marketers etc. may send to my postal mail box outside my home or office and what they may impose upon me on my cell phone, computer Email, etc. inside. Even more importantly, I have a right to reject and block any unwanted telephone or computer contact, much less any unwanted disclosure of my personal information including my Email address, which is more like the dignital key to a car door than a postal address is.

If Congress really worked for, or gave a Continental you-know-what about, those of us who vote for them, rather than those who send them big, tax-exempt payola called campaign contributions or 527s or whatever and pass these along to customers dependent upon their products, we would long since have got strong civil and criminal laws, and enforcment thereof, against anyone gaining, transferring, or using any data from our computers without our express affirmative consent or request with specific reference to that particular use or disclosure.

When a Congerssional leader's cell phone conversations are published, in what I believe was a clear violation of 47 U.S.C. 405 passed in 1933, and President Bush says he's afraid to use Email to communicate with his daughters because it is not and apparently can not be made secure, it's about time we see some real progress, technically, politically, and by Congress and the Courts, to protect Americans' rights to privacy against both Big Government and Big Business, much of which we really have to deal with in the reality of today's world. Not everything that may add to the bottom line of some actual or potential campaign contributor is consistent either with free enterprise or political liberty.
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