Safe Internet Foundation launches

Less than it seems

The Safe Internet Foundation (SIF) was launched yesterday at Keukenhof, the tulip capital of the Netherlands, as an initiative of the Dutch Internet Society.

The original idea came from Jan Baan, founder of the Baan Company, but now running the Vanenburg Group (which has 2,000 employees, he said). Baan is the chairman of SIF and appears to be its backer, but financial details were not made available. Apparently the Dutch Road Safety Foundation also wanted to encourage the business world to develop safe Internet solutions - presumably they think that any highway, including the Internet Highway, is part of their remit.

SiIF says it will be producing a SIF Suite, which will consist of a package of solutions to protect against illegal information, viruses, the abuse of personal information, and fraudulent payments. A questioner asked whether SIF was being abused when it became known that the first and so far only product in the SIF Suite is ClickChoice's MyFilter.

It just happens that ClickChoice Europe is a Vanenburg company, with Baan's son Paul playing a prominent role. ClickChoice's Web site invites the downloading of the product, but The Register was told by the ClickChoice's US office in Georgia that the product will probably not be available until next year -- for the US and Canada only, apparently.

It is now in a limited beta. Since the product is free, the revenue is apparently to come from selling demographic information derived from consumer registrations. However, ClickChoice says that the only personal identifiable information collected will be the email address, and that this "will not be shared outside of ClickChoice, unless required by law".

We were told by the US company that they felt there was a sufficient market for anonymous demographic information to enable "marketeers to offer tailored advertising based on these user profiles". There is an opt-out possibility, but you would have thought that a pukka organisation would have an opt-in policy. Is it reassuring to know that its privacy policy guidelines were based "on the guidelines of the Federal Trade Commission, the European Community [sic] Policy Directive in October 1998, and the privacy principles of TRUSTe and BBC OnLine"?

It is suggested that the advertisers ("carefully selected partners") will be organisations like those with a news site giving information about a local concert, or information about a new book available in a local store. But could it not also be soul-saving religious messages, hard-sells for consumer products involving credit, and begging letters from charities? In the fullness of time, no doubt all will be revealed.

ClickChoice will work in an extraordinary way in that it will combine technology with human intervention. When a previously unclassified Web site is visited, a rapid response system will be sent "to the community" (sounds like censors to us) and be put at the top of the list of URLs to be categorised. If it's "racism, drugs, pornography, swearing, dependency, drugs or sects", then access will be denied to the original requester.

An early ClickChoice user is to be the Safe America Foundation which is also, as it happens, based in Georgia and is concerned with several areas of safety, including technology. The approach described by Len Pagano, its president, was better education of parents, and they go about it in a big way. MTV has given them $500,000 of media time, and with a Wal-Mart promotion, they reached 90 million people in America.

Monique de Vries, the Secretary of State for Transport and Public Works, was to have declared the Safe Internet Foundation launched, but it was perhaps fortunate that her presence was required in parliament, perhaps to deal with a demonstration outside the Dutch parliament over noise levels at Schiphol airport. Had she had to do the launch, by clicking a screen and entering some data, she would have had the same embarrassment that befell her substitute and the meeting chairman, Professor Marcel Creemers.

It was pretty clear that so far as the Internet was concerned, those who can do, and those who can't talk about it. This was crystallised in the most perceptive remark of the day from Han de Ruiter, vp of electronic commerce at ABN AMRO Bank, who observed that "we are talking too much, and not doing enough". Jaw jaw is a very Dutch failing, where the Polder Model decrees that in the purple (red/blue, with a soupcon of D66) parliamentary coalition, everything is much discussed and controlled.

Baan evidently sees the SIF as a dyke across the polder, and a basis for the virtual society where money, money, money had been replaced by speed, speed, speed. He also related how former Israeli PM Simon Peres had told him that "Bill Gates is considered president of America, not Bill Clinton".

Jan Prins, director of the Dutch Internet Society said he would not use PowerPoint slides, as they were "a terrific way to deliver a poor speech". His heart was also in the right place, since he analogised between Guinness and the Internet being both good for you. It was interesting that he and speakers other than Baan put emphasis on issues like the security of payments, the protection of privacy, and a healthy distrust of government. His preference was for self-regulation, rather than government interference.

Prins rather set-up Frans de Bruine of the European Commission DGXIII, who did use PowerPoint slides. He quoted The new Finnish DGXIII commissioner, who said in his interview by the European Parliament that "I favour self-regulation by service providers, rather than excessive regulation. The commission was looking at safety for children, for consumers, for business, and safe technology."

A legal regulatory framework for the Internet was impossible, he suggested, but harmonisation was on the menu as usual. Ton Jensen, director of SIF wound it up. He was previously with Baan as VP of marketing, before moving to a similar job at Vanenburg.

Next year, a similar foundation is apparently to be set up in the UK with a conference in November, with additional plans for expansion to Germany, Spain and France. The nearer-term objective is to get 100 international members and 50 Dutch members paying NLG10,000 (about $5,000). Jensen made it clear in response to a question about ClickChoice that rival products would be promoted equally, but ClickChoice was seen to be an initiative-taker.

Hella Voute-Droste, a VVD (liberal) party MP asked whether the Foundation was a camouflage for the further development of ClickChoice. Baan huffily commented that he hadn't mentioned ClickChoice in his presentation, and launched into a tirade as to how "We're far too afraid [in the Netherlands], with no capital and no guts to get things going. Silicon Valley is one second away, not nine hours."

Pagano sprang to his defence and said that in the US, Baan was regarded as "a national treasure", but this view did not seem to be unanimous. The Safe Internet Foundation appears to have wrong-footed itself with its promotion of ClickChoice, especially as it is not even available. Perhaps it would be wise to put the SIF Suite programme on hold until some choices can be offered. ®

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