American Express, MasterCard, and Visa have joined forces with several technology vendors in an effort to standardize the digital wallets that hold consumer payment information for Internet transactions.

The standard, Electronic Commerce Modeling Language, would allow consumers to enter personal details once into the wallet software, which could be called up as needed to make payments to retailers.

Upon request, the stored data would automatically "populate" order forms, indicating shipping and billing preferences for items purchased over the Net.

Electronic wallets in various forms have been deployed by banks, Internet merchants, and portal sites, but they have lacked operational consistency. Electronic Commerce Modeling Language, or ECML, is expected to make on-line ordering easier, thereby encouraging consumer participation in electronic commerce.

Fears about security discourage many people from performing monetary transactions on the Web, surveys have indicated. Jupiter Communications of New York reported in February that 27% of on-line orders were abandoned before checkouts, because of the hassle of filling out forms that required re-keying of account information.

Steven Ryan, senior vice president of emerging technologies at Visa U.S.A., called the standard "a major step to achieving widespread adoption of e-commerce."

The ECML leaders include the three major credit card brands and SETCo, the joint venture of Visa and MasterCard International that promotes the Secure Electronic Transaction protocol for Internet payments.

Visa over the last three months spearheaded what it called "a universal format for core data elements" in digital wallets. "There was a gaping hole, and we've taken an industry approach to solving a problem," Mr. Ryan said.

Also in the core group are International Business Machines Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Microsoft Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Transactor Networks, and Trintech Group.

Cybercash Inc. and America Online Inc. announced their co-operation on ECML on Monday.

Merchants such as Dell, Compaq,,,, Omaha Steaks, Nordstrom,, and iGo Corp. have endorsed the initiative.

"We really think the point of sale is an important part of the experience for consumers," said Ron Martinez, chief executive officer of the San Francisco-based wallet software innovator Transactor Networks. ECML creates "the closest thing to a credit card in the on-line world."

"We think ECML is good because it makes it much easier for us and others who wish to provide form-filling utilities to do so," said Russell Stevenson, senior vice president of Cybercash, which said it is working on a pilot with four financial institutions.

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