Privacy Laws Needed, TRUSTe Tells '60 Minutes'

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A "60 Minutes" segment that aired Nov. 28 downplayed responsible practices by marketers and instead focused on how consumer behavior is tracked online. But in a surprising move, TRUSTe spokeswoman Lori Fena hinted to veteran correspondent Lesley Stahl that privacy legislation is finally needed.


"We don't have policies in place other than the volunteer system," Fena said, "so what happens to all the companies that don't choose to give notice, access, consent and redress?"


Marketers were probably more prepared to hear the comment from Stahl rather than Fena, who was until recently one of the industry's strongest advocates of self-regulation - especially given all the attention the network's longest-running news show gave to how online services companies such as DoubleClick, New York, use cookies and other Web browser-based technology to target consumers with advertising.


"A lot gets left on the cutting-room floor in a television interview with a show like '60 Minutes,' " said Dave Steer, a spokesman at TRUSTe, an online seal program. "But in context, Lori was talking about a gap. She was saying that we have a privacy gap going on in the industry among some software companies that collect information but don't disclose that practice."


TRUSTe is launching a program that covers privacy protections at software companies in addition to those operating Web sites. But Steer also conceded that the time has come for marketers to consider some kind of privacy regulations.


"We are a volunteer program, so we're only two-thirds of the solution. And I think it's fair to say that we are at a point now where we may have to explore a legal framework," he said. "What we need to figure out and what we need for the Web community to do is raise trust in the online world. It may be time to explore laws that don't hamper e-commerce but protect it."


The "60 Minutes" segment was partly researched at the fall DMA conference in Toronto by producer Rome Hartman and associate producer Elizabeth Weinreb; however, none of the footage filmed there was used in the piece. Stephen Altobelli, director of communications at the DMA, said there was little reaction among officials there regarding the broadcast.


"I wasn't surprised at what they aired and I was not surprised that we weren't mentioned because the people at '60 Minutes' had indicated earlier on that they were not interested in interviewing [DMA president/CEO] Bob Wientzen."


Andrew Shen, policy analyst at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Washington, said he thought TRUSTe was merely trying to defend the importance of protecting everyone online.


"There are obviously greater implications here," Shen said. "Privacy is increasingly being recognized across borders as a human right."


At Doubleclick, the company most scrutinized by "60 Minutes," a company spokeswoman said there were inaccuracies in the broadcast but declined to comment, specifically offering only a published report that referred to its Web site. She said a statement would be issued by the Network Advertising Initiative, an alliance of online advertising networks that includes 24/7 Media, AdForce, AdKnowledge, Adsmart, DoubleClick, Engage, Flycast, MatchLogic, NetGravity (a division of DoubleClick) and Real Media. At press time, the NAI had not issued any statement.
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