A Plan for Secure Digital Shopping

By John Markoff
Originally published in The New York Times on October 14, 1994

Think of it as a universal credit card for information in cyberspace.

On Monday, First Virtual Holdings Inc., a start-up company with powerful backing from the computer and financial services industries will announce a new international system intended to make shopping with a Visa card from a home computer as secure and convenient as using a credit card at a shopping mall.

The new system is unlike those used on current on-line computer networks like Compuserve or Prodigy, where credit-card purchases can be made from various retailers if the customer is already a subscriber to the service.

The First Virtual approach is to create an auto- matic authorization system that requires no previous relationship be- tween buyer and seller.
In the era of electronic commerce, the new system may herald a shift comparable to the transition a generation ago, when the members-only department store credit card gave way to use-anywhere cards like Visa and Mastercard.

The new company, based in San Diego, is the brainchild of Lee Stein, a San Diego lawyer and accountant who is its president, and three computer scientists long involved with the Internet global web of computer networks. First Virtuals big partners are Electronic Data Systems Inc., a division of General Motors, and First USA, a fast-growing credit card company in Dallas that will issue a Visa card for the new service.

First Virtual is still negotiating with merchants to adopt the system, and expects that the first materials for sale will be electronic newsletters, on-line books and other information.

A Plan for Secure Digital Shopping

A service proposed by First Virtual Holdings promises to permit buying and selling of electronic documents, goods and services on the Internet without vulnerability to fraud, First Virtuals backers include Electronic Data Services and First USA, a fast-growing issuer of Visa credit cards.

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