NEW YORK - AT&T Corp. has unveiled a service designed to promote safer shopping on the Internet by allowing consumers to talk to sales representatives through a direct link from the company's World Wide Web site.
People will be able to make hotel reservations and even buy cars through the service, which will let consumers click on an icon on a Web site that places a call directly to the company over AT&T's phone lines.
AT&T said being able to speak to a representative will make transactions safer than sending credit-card numbers over the Internet, which is prone to eavesdropping.
"It begins to personalize and humanize the whole Internet experience," said David Nagel, president of AT&T Laboratories, the company's research division.
The service begins its trial phase in October and can be accessed through any Internet access provider, not just AT&T's WorldNet service. After a call is placed, people with two phone lines will be able to receive images over the Internet of the products being discussed.
People with only one phone line will have their Internet link disconnected once the call is placed. AT&T hopes to eventually combine the voice call and Internet connection on one line.
The trial phase should last for about three or four months while AT&T hones the technical aspects and determines how much it will charge companies to use the services, Mr. Nagel said.
Consumers will not have to pay any fees beyond their normal Internet access charges for using the service and will not need any additional software.
AT&T expects the completed version to be available during the first half of next year. It hopes to attract travel agents, providers of financial services and other companies that serve consumers and businesses.
Among the first four companies to use the service: Consumers Car Club of San Francisco, which shops for cars for consumers; TeleService Resources Inc. of Fort Worth, Texas, a business travel agent; and Stahls' Inc. of St. Clair Shores, Mich., which makes equipment for printing on clothing and signs.
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