New Service Offers Customized E-Commerce Privacy Policies

A new Web-based service from PrivacyBot is offering e-commerce businesses the ability to create and display a customized privacy policy to its customers. It also allows the site to display the Trustmark seal of approval for a price of $30 per year.

The Trustmark seal is a graphic that Web sites can post to give consumers one-click verification of a site’s privacy policy and its compliance history.

PrivacyBot is the product of two Internet entrepreneurs who got a first-hand feel for the damage that can be caused when an unauthorized party gains access to confidential e-mail.

“It was an intrusion into our privacy that we won’t forget,” said PrivacyBot founders John Newman and Thomas Mielke, who started out on the Internet with a software service for legal forms, called QuickForm Contracts.

When Newman and Mielke took their invasion of privacy case to court — eventually winning a settlement from the intruder — they discovered how expensive and inefficient pursuing basic privacy violations through the legal system can be.

Streamlining Costs

While Internet privacy seal programs are starting to make headway as a viable preventive measure, Newman and Mielke argue that they are more cumbersome and costly than they have to be.

“Traditional seal programs helped pioneer good privacy practices, but their costly manual processes are not scalable or practical,” the founders say. “One program charges $299 to $4,999 (US$) per year.

Another requires you to put a CPA on retainer. Forever. A third imposes blanket manual audit requirements, regardless of your site’s past history or reputation in the marketplace.”

Outsourcing the Whole Package

By automating the labor-intensive processes of ensuring compliance with various Internet privacy guidelines, the PrivacyBot program “takes the ‘busy work’ out of running a privacy seal program,” the company says.

The privacy policies that the company develops are automatically accompanied by a machine-readable XML version to help the sites prepare for the next generation of Web browsers, electronic wallets and personal digital assistants.

Through an Account Manager feature, site operators can manage their accounts online and check to make sure the privacy policy is achieving the consumer confidence level the company is looking for.

The company also offers a mediation service to help resolve privacy disputes without legal action. When consumers file their grievances through the PrivacyBot program, PrivacyBot re-words it as a formal complaint and starts a voluntary mediation process to bring the two parties together to reach a private resolution within fixed deadlines. The entire process is managed online, not in the courts.

Does It Assure Compliance?

The PrivacyBot system does not guarantee that a company carrying its seal is in compliance with its stated privacy policy. Instead, the system forces a Web site to post a stated privacy policy that can be used by a customer in the event there is a dispute.

The system also keeps track of any consumer complaints about privacy violations by Web sites that carry the Trustmark seal and also notes any unfavorable outcomes from the voluntary, non-binding mediation sessions are noted on the site’s public Registry Statement.

The automated complaint processor also filters out frivolous and multiple complaints by imposing a $1.50 fee to file a complaint, the company says.

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