Advocacy Group Launches Privacy Web Site

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Advocacy group the Center for Democracy and Technology earlier this month launched Privacy Watchdog, a Web site that urges consumers to analyze Web sites' information collection-and-use practices and notify them of the results.


"Consumers who are not on the Net yet cite privacy, even ahead of price, as being the No. 1 reason that they have yet to get online," said Deirdre Mulligan, staff counsel for the CDT, Washington. "This is a tool that we hope will help individuals unleash their privacy concerns in a way in which businesses that are operating online will be able to hear it."


The site, http://watchdog.cdt.org, invites consumers to visit business sites and take a seven question survey critiquing their privacy practices. The site then generates an e-mail form letter the consumer can edit and send to the business's site's Web master outlining the results. Consumers can choose the site to be critiqued, or they can direct the Privacy Watchdog site to choose a site randomly for them.


"There's a generalized angst about privacy, and one of the goals here is to give people a conceptual way to think about and analyze privacy," Mulligan said.


And while consumers are wary of online information-collection practices, most don't know what to look for to determine whether a site is respecting their privacy, Mulligan said. The site offers consumers a primer on privacy basics like where to find a site's policy, and defines privacy-related terms, like cookies (tools Web sites use to track visits). "While this obviously is not a comprehensive list of fair information practices, it at least [gets] people processing what they should be looking for when they're out on the Web."


The CDT plans to build lists of sites with privacy policies and those without based on the results submitted by Privacy Watchdog participants. "There hasn't been a whole lot of bottom-up pressure on the market from consumers," said Mulligan adding that the CDT believes if given a tool to communicate their concerns to the business community, consumers will use it.


When asked how CDT plans to promote the site to consumers, Mulligan was short on details. "We wanted to get this out in the marketplace," she said, "hopefully in the month of January, we'll be doing some banner ads and other activities to let people know."
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