US 5884272 Method and system for establishing and maintaining user-controlled anonymous communications

ABSTRACT – A system for establishing anonymous communications includes a plurality of party terminals, a plurality of requester terminals, and a central controller. The system receives and stores party data about respective parties. Upon receiving criteria for parties of interest from a requestor terminal and authorization from respective parties, the central controller releases to the requester party associated with the parties. The system also establishes communications channels between parties and the requester, while maintaining their anonymity.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to establishing anonymous communications between two or more parties. More specifically, the invention relates to controlling the release of confidential or sensitive information of at least one of the parties in establishing anonymous communications.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Accordingly, the present invention is directed to a communications method and system that obviates problems due to limitations and disadvantages of the prior art.

A goal of the invention is to provide a communication system incorporating a central database of information supplied by one or more of parties and managed by a central administrator, where all parties to the system can manage and control the release of any or all information about themselves or their identities, and where such a system allows for electronic-based communications between the parties without the necessity of revealing the identity of either party.

Another goal of the invention to allow parties to submit criteria for searching a trusted agent’s confidential database and receive a count of the number of records that satisfy the criteria, without revealing the identities of the parties associated with those records.

A further goal of the invention is to allow a system administrator to send a request for authorization to release information about a party to a searching party.

Other goals of the invention are to provide a system that encrypts communications between parties to maintain the anonymity of the parties; to authenticate searchable information contained in a central database for release to parties; to allow one or both parties to receive compensation for contributing or maintaining information accessible in a database; and to allow one party to apply a customized scoring algorithm to information contained about other parties in a database.

Still other goals of this invention are to provide a system for a trusted agent to act as an anonymous remailer or communicate via e-mail or other electronic means with specific outside parties requested or identified by one of the parties to validate information about the parties.

Yet another goal of the invention is to be able to store and authenticate such information that may be provided by outside parties in a central database while allowing the outside parties to retain control over the release of respective information to other parties.

This invention meets these goals by allowing a party to maintain effective control over the timing and release of certain information stored in a database, including the party’s identity and other relevant data about the party, to another party. This controlled release of identity can be performed gradually in a series of steps where the party authorizes release of more and more information. The invention also authenticates information stored in the database before releasing the information, thereby improving the reliability of the released information. Finally, the invention establishes a communications channel between a party and a requestor while not necessarily revealing the identity of the party and/or the requester to each other. The controlled release of information in the invention allows for new improvements in the quality of the communication process when one party to the process would suffer significant costs or be exposed to significant risks if their identity were released prematurely or indiscriminately.

To achieve these and other objects, and in accordance with the purposes of the invention, as embodied and broadly described, one aspect of the invention includes a method for facilitating an exchange of information between a first party and a second party. In this method, first party information data is received from the first party and stored in a secure database. At least one first party rule for releasing said first party information data is received from the first party and stored. A search request to the secure database including at least one search criterion to be satisfied is received from a second party. Second party data relevant to said at least one first party rule is determined. At least one second party rule for releasing the second party data is received from the second party. The search request from said second party is then processed to determine if said first party information data satisfies said at least one search criterion; and if the first party information data satisfies said at least one search criterion, then the second party is notified that the at least one search criterion has been satisfied. A request from said second party for said first party information data is then received. Second party data is released pursuant to said second party rule. The central controller then determines, based on the received second party data, whether the at least one first party rule has been satisfied; and if the at least one first party rule has been satisfied, the first party information data for which the at least one first party rule has been satisfied is released to the second party.

In another aspect, the invention includes an apparatus for facilitating an exchange of information between a first party and a second party. The apparatus includes a secure database device operatively connected to: a device for receiving first party information data from a first party; a device for storing the first party information data in the secure database device; a device for receiving, from the first party, at least one first party rule for releasing first party information data; a device for storing the at least one first party rule; a device for receiving, from a second party, a search request to the secure database device, the search request comprising at least one search criterion to be satisfied; a device for processing the search request from the second party to determine if the first party information data satisfies the at least one search criterion; a device for communicating to the second party that the at least one search criterion has been satisfied; a device for receiving a request from the second party for the first party information data; a device for determining second party data relevant to the at least one first party rule; a device for receiving, from second party, at least one second party rule for releasing second party data; a device for releasing second party data pursuant to the second party rule; a device for determining, based on second party data, whether the at least one first party rule has been satisfied; and a device for providing to the second party the first party information data for which the at least one first party rule has been satisfied.

In another aspect, the present invention includes a system for facilitating an exchange of information between a first party and a second party, the system including a memory for storing at least a secure database; a communication port; and a processor connected to said memory and said communication port, the processor being operative to receive first party information data from the first party and store the first party information data in the secure database. The processor is further operative to receive, from the first party, at least one first party rule for releasing first party information data and to store the at least one first party rule. The processor is further operative to receive, from the second party, a search request to the secure database, said search request having at least one search criterion to be satisfied. The processor is further operative to determine second party data relevant to the at least one first party rule and to receive, from the second party, at least one second party rule for releasing second party data. The processor is further operative to process the search request from the second party and determine if the first party information data satisfies the at least one search criterion. If the first party information data satisfies the at least one search criterion, the processor is further operative to communicate to the second party that the at least one search criterion has been satisfied and receive a request from the second party for first party information data. The processor is then operative to release the second party data pursuant to the second party rule and to determine, based on the second party data, whether the at least one rule has been satisfied. If the at least one first party rule has been satisfied, the processor is further operative to provide, to the second party, the first party information data for which said at least one first party rule has been satisfied.

 

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