Is the Web Ready for E-Cash Yet?

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CyberCash. DigiCash. Beenz. Those brand names and others litter the information superhighway, ideas for online currency that tried and failed to establish a standard for Internet transactions. Now NatWest, a major international bank, is going all-out to make its new product, the somewhat sinisterly named Magex, the solution to selling information online, and it just might succeed. But doesn't information want to be free?

Here's how Magex, which NatWest unveiled yesterday, would work. The retailer places his or her information -- a novel, a piece of software, an MP3 file, an extra life for a computer game, what-have-you -- inside something called a DigiBox, a virtual container that encrypts the information and ensures its secure transmission over the Internet. The consumer downloads the information, DigiBox and all, onto his or her computer. The consumer can then "open" the DigiBox and access the information only when he or she doles out some cash to Magex from an electronic wallet that exists on his or her hard drive; Magex then pays the original vendor. When your wallet gets empty, just let Magex know, and they'll top it off using your credit card information, which they'll have on file. MORE >>