Doubts about confidentiality are deterring potential traders.
With the number of people accessing the Internet increasing by millions every year, it would seem the perfect place for forward-thinking companies to do business. But what, above all, deters many potential traders are doubts about the security of transactions on the Net.
Halifax Building Society, for example, has a World Wide Web site but isn't yet transacting business on it. The site simply provides information about the Society's services and products, with the help of a number of interactive elements. 'We're using it as a learning experience and monitoring what happens,' explains John Wilcock, project manager for IT planning.
He admits that there are 'security concerns about unauthorised users getting into the system' and obtaining the online account information about customers. 'We want 100% security.
Our customers need to be absolutely sure that their information is completely secure, so the Society is currently considering a number of options.' But Wilcock is confident that the Halifax will be able to provide its customers with such services as they might 13e want on the Net, backed by the security they want - 'in the future'.
Peter O'Connell, director and general manager of InfoTrade, the online personal finance service division of Mitsubishi, argues that commerce can already be conducted safely and securely online. The answer, he says, is to go through an Intranet, a self-contained system at a single site (or within a specific group of sites) to which customers can dial in via their computer. InfoTrade is itself such a system. It's a one-stop location for trading stocks, securing mortgages, insurance and a range of other services. 'We'll use any technical platform that makes commercial sense and that offers a quality solution to the consumer,' says O'Connell. 'Hence our solution of direct connection - at the moment - because we can control it. We totally manage the systems we have ourselves, we absolutely control the quality of service the customer gets - and that's the bottom line.'
But some argue that it's not even necessary to go through an Intranet service these days. John Hemming, chief executive of MarketNet (an Internet shopping mall providing everything from legal and travel services to an online florist) is one. 'There have been no examples of fraud resulting from the transmission of this information,' asserts Hemming. 'If people are using strong encryption, PGP for example, then there is no problem with security. Note that I stress "transmission". Once data is available at a site, someone can break into the building and steal it - as can a disaffected employee.
The problems have been overstated - the solutions are perfectly adequate.'
The majority of experts now agree that financial transactions on the Net can be at least as secure as most others. For example, many people are leery of sending credit-card details over the Net, but they think nothing of handing their credit card to a waiter in a restaurant and not seeing it again for 10 or 15 minutes. At least as much damage can be done with a card in that situation as with card details on the Net.