The heads of two Canadian electronic bill payment and presentment ventures spoke out last week against data mining and said their companies will not access, store, or sell customers’ personal data.

Peter Melanson, president and chief executive officer of Epost, said companies that transport data cannot afford to violate privacy. “Just as Canada Post will not look inside the physical envelope, we will not look inside the electronic envelope,” he said.

Gordon Graham, president and CEO of e-Route, said: “We don’t create a profile of you. We don’t keep track of you. We’re a completely hands-off relayer of data.”

Epost was established in November 1999 as a joint venture of Canada Post Corp. and Cebra Inc., the online subsidiary of the Bank of Montreal. e-Route was formed in 1998 by six Canadian financial institutions, including Toronto-Dominion Bank and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

The two men spoke last week at a conference organized by Derivion Corp., an Internet billing company. During the conference Devirion announced the results of a Gallup poll it had sponsored to find out more about Canadians’ views on privacy.

The poll found that Canadians do not feel that online companies are doing a very good job at keeping their personal date private, said Josephine Mazzuca, a research analyst at the Gallup Organization. “When consumers are given a certain level of control over the situation, they tend to feel more comfortable,” she said. However, “75% of customers don’t know how to remove their names from a mailing list.”

The September poll involved 1,000 respondents. More than half were Internet users, and most of these said they would be more likely to share their personal information online with companies they have relationships with in the physical world.

“People do business with companies they already know in real life,” said Dushyant Sharma, co-founder and chief technology officer of Derivion. Online companies would improve their odds if they entered partnerships with established businesses, he said.

Mr. Melanson said Epost’s relationship with the Canadian postal system bolsters the company’s reputation. A cyber-criminal who attacks the Epost system is “not only hacking but … tampering with the mail, which is a federal offense,” he said. Epost marks each document it delivers with a digital postmark as a guarantee that it has not been tampered with, he said.

Mr. Graham said the danger of losing customers because of privacy concerns is nothing new. “Financial institutions have always held reams of highly personal and private information all about you,” he said. “Your life insurance company knows how much you smoke, whether you drink, even where you go on vacation. In the case of banks, Canadian courts ruled over a century ago that banks had a legal common law duty to protect the confidentiality of their customers. You can only lose a customer’s trust once.”

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