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RBC Pilots Online Privacy Tools Program

Royal Bank provides security software tools in bid to help Canadian customers better protect their privacy when surfing the Net.

In a bid to help its Canadian customers better protect their privacy when surfing the Net, RBC Royal Bank is providing them with security software tools.

The tools, from Zero-Knowledge Systems, a Montreal-based manufacturer of security and privacy software, give consumers greater control over how they share personal information when online. The tools are being distributed for free in a six-month pilot, and are downloadable to the users' home computer.

The tools alert consumers to unauthorized attempts to connect to their computers, simplify online registration processes, prevent cookies from being stored and send personal information only when it's the consumer's choice.

The pilot is unrelated to RBC's online bank offering; that's already secured using 128-bit encryption. "Our clients have come to trust the privacy and security of their information with Royal Bank when doing their banking online," said Peter Cullen, corporate privacy officer at the Toronto-based institution. "We want to bring tools that offer privacy and security to other parts of their online experiences."

Zero-Knowledge Systems, which has been providing security and privacy technologies and services for the past two years, is partnering with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), Internet service providers (ISPs) and now with financial institutions like RBC to distribute its privacy and security tools to consumers.

"Companies like Royal Bank have robust privacy and security measures in place for their Web-based financial services," said Hamnett Hill, executive vice president at Zero-Knowledge Systems. "Our privacy tools give consumers added confidence when they enter the open marketplace of the Internet."

Privacy and security is an issue for North American consumers. A recent Ipsos-Reid survey found that 69% of Canadian Internet users believe their bank can ensure the security and privacy of their account information and financial transactions done online, compared to 49% of Americans. A June Gallup Poll found that 78% of Americans are very or somewhat concerned about privacy surrounding the Internet, while 71% worry about cookies that track their surfing habits.

RBC is trying to create an environment through choice and control, where consumers can feel more secure about their online actions, said Cullen.

The bank is targeting current and potential online banking customers to participate in the pilot project. Depending on customer feedback, RBC will consider offering the tools to all of its Canadian customers next spring. The bank also intends to roll it out to U.S. customers, likely through recently-acquired Centura Bank. "It depends on how the pilot goes," said Cullen.

RBC's move follows on the heels of new federal legislation in Canada designed to protect privacy. The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act sets out rules on how businesses should handle the personal information of employees and customers. Canadian banks have already implemented similar provisions.

RBC's initiative is "not about banking at all," said Cullen, who was hired a year ago as one of the banking industry's first privacy officers. "We want to make sure customers see us as providing value for them."

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