America Offline

ONE OF THE lesser-known features of popular online services like America Online and Compuserve is their value as consumer databases capable of providing marketing companies with details down to the level of which websites and chat groups their subscribers visit. Under a bill authored by Rep. Steve Kelley (DFL-Hopkins) and Sen. Ted Mondale (DFL-St. Louis Park), the online services would have to give Minnesota subscribers the option of keeping that data private. "Take America Online," says Kelley. "They provide information on travel, on securities, on music, on a whole range of products. If the company chooses to sell information about its customers, the potential quantity of information is very large."

If the bill passes (it squeaked by in the House and is on its way to the Senate), online services would have to post a "Privacy Policy" listing subscribers' options. "We give telephone customers the ability to have unlisted numbers," says Kelley. "The issue of having consent is the same."

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