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Zero-Knowledge guarantees anonymity for browser users

February 11, 1999
Web posted at: 2:34 p.m. EST (1934 GMT)

by Ephraim Schwartz


INDIAN WELLS, California (IDG) -- A company with the unusual name of Zero-Knowledge wowed an audience of techies here at the Demo 99 conference with a demonstration of its Freedom 1.0 application, which ensures 100 percent anonymity to users browsing the Web. Anonymity is achieved through a combination of encryption and anonymous rerouting.

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The program, which creates pseudonyms for $10 per year, hides a Web surfer's true identity. It renders useless user information and profiles created by following mouse clicks or the recording of the content of an online discussion because ISPs and Web site owners know neither the name nor the location of the actual user.

"Even if we are subpoenaed for information about a customer, our answer would have to be [that] we don't know," said a smiling Austin Hill, president of Zero-Knowledge .

"All Zero-Knowledge has is encrypted data," said Hill, who paused before finishing the thought with a swipe at current U.S. Government encryption policy. "And our encryption scheme can be shipped worldwide because we are from Canada."

The need is growing to protect the identity of users who may want to enter into political, religious, or health-related discussions, for example, without repercussion to business or other activities, Hill noted. At the moment an electronic-commerce site can track a users activity through every mouse click on the site.

Freedom 1.0 creates digital pseudonyms which cannot be traced back to the actual user. At the same time, users cannot use the anonymous ID to spam other sites because the ID includes a counter that limits the amount of e-mail sent per day.

The program is focused on "social interaction" at the moment but can also be useful under other circumstances, said Dov Smith, a spokesman for Zero-Knowledge. Corporations wishing to do market research at a competitors' site might want anonymity, Smith said.

Freedom 1.0 will be in beta testing in March and is expected to ship this spring.

InfoWorld Editor at Large Ephraim Schwartz is based in San Francisco.

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