Online Giants To Lead Privacy Campaign

Twelve Internet industry giants are among a group of 36 firms that are partnering with non-profit privacy seal organization TRUSTe to kick off Privacy Partnership 2000, a grassroots public service campaign designed to teach consumers how to navigate the Web safely and effectively.

The 12 major players participating in the initiative are AltaVista, America Online, BrightStreet, Excite@Home, IBM, Intel, Lycos, Microsoft, Persona, RealNetworks, Verizon Communications and Yahoo!.

Bringing the rivals together was no small task, but the stakes surrounding the privacy issue are high because consumer advocacy groups and the U.S. government are standing by with proposed regulations in hand.

United Front

“The very fact that these competitors have all agreed that privacy protection can only be achieved through a unified effort serves as a rallying cry for Web sites worldwide,” said TRUSTe Chairman Lori Fena. “By empowering customers to control their personal information, we make the Web a more trusted place to do business.”

The Privacy Partnership 2000 will deliver its message with a multimedia campaign letting consumers know what privacy notifications and protections to look for while on the Web. For example, the print advertisement will explain that when a user clicks on the TRUSTe seal on a particular Web site, he or she will be immediately taken to the privacy statement, which delineates how the site collects and uses information.

The full-page ad will appear in 26 major U.S. publications, as well as the USA Today Sunday supplement.

The Privacy Partnership 2000 will also develop a radio public service announcement (PSA) giving listeners tips on how to safeguard their privacy online. Listeners will be advised to read Web site privacy statements, to steer clear of any Web site that does not prominently post a privacy statement, and to look for the TRUSTe Privacy Seal of Approval.

The partnership will also include a Web banner advertising initiative. The campaign participants are contributing approximately 20-40 million online advertising impressions worth an estimated $300,000 (US$). Any Web site can join the campaign by downloading and running the Privacy Partnership 2000 banner advertisements available at TRUSTe’s Web site.

Founded in 1997, TRUSTe is an independent organization dedicated to building consumer trust in the Internet. The TRUSTe seal is displayed on most of the Internet’s portal sites and approximately half of the top 100 sites.

Is It Enough?

Some privacy and consumer advocates remain skeptical of industry self-regulation, believing that only government can truly be trusted to regulate online privacy. The recent proposal by defunct e-tailer to sell their customer database, including names, addresses and shopping preferences, to the highest bidder has fueled that fire.

Not until after privacy advocates and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stepped in to complain did the bankrupt company agree to modify its plans and restrict the sale to a company that would purchase the entire Web site as a whole.

More to Come?

Notably, a recent report by Forrester Research suggests that the online privacy debate will temporarily subside and then reach a crisis point by 2004.

According to the research firm, momentum for a new privacy bill will crest by 2005, and the U.S. Congress will be forced to pass sweeping legislation that establishes unified privacy principles applying to the Internet, financial institutions and medical providers.

“The measure will require genuine opt-in for the sharing of personal information with third parties, including any business partners and affiliates,” Forrester said.

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