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Another Seal to Surf Privacy Wave

Twenty-six Internet companies involved in advertising announced yet another consumer privacy seal of approval for Web sites at the Internet World trade show in Los Angeles yesterday.

The new organization, which has dubbed itself the Personalization Consortium, says it will be addressing industry-related concerns regarding the use of consumers’ personal identifying information over the Internet by private companies. And the group plans to offer a unique seal to Web sites that abide by its proposed rules, which will require participating companies to submit to a privacy practices audit.

Don Peppers and Martha Rogers of Peppers & Rogers Group, New York, have been elected co-chairs and spokespersons for the group, which also includes high profile company members such as KPMG Consulting, New York, and American Airlines, Dallas. It also includes, DoubleClick, New York, the Internet advertising network currently under investigation by the FTC and more than one state attorney general.

DoubleClick, which claims it has now served 65 million banner impressions of its own privacy education campaign banner ad since last month, released a published statement last week by public policy director, Josh Isay, stating that the company is “looking forward to working with the members of the personalization

consortium to spread the message about the benefits of online customization and ways in which industry can protect consumer privacy.”

The consortium says it is advancing “objectives for ethical information and privacy management” by requiring that the following guidelines be applied to the industry’s “evolving personalization technology: fair access by individuals to their personal information; responsible linkage of online and off-line information; redress provisions for individuals to change information; criteria for “opt-in” and “opt-out” privacy options and templates to standardize the disclosure of consortium members' privacy policies to consumers.

The 26 founding members of the Personalization Consortium include American Airlines, BroadVision, Chell.com, DoubleClick, eCustomers.com, Elity Systems, E.piphany, eSupplies.com, Exactis.com, Frequency Marketing, !hey Software, I-Behavior, icontact, Individualize.com, KPMG Consulting, Magnify, Nexgenix, NextClick, Peppers and Rogers Group, PricewaterhouseCoopers, PrivaSeek, Servicesoft, SneakerLabs, u1.net, Wheelhouse and Younology.

To be sure, the Personalization Consortium has organized an impressive initial group of members. And its stated goals and standards by no means run counter to some of those proposed by the Federal Trade Commission, and they are similar in many ways to those administered by programs like TRUSTe, Washington, BBBonline, New York, and the Direct Marketing Association, New York.

But Mark McEahern, chief privacy officer at Enonymous, San Diego, a company that rates Web sites and helps consumers protect their online privacy, says he’s not so sure privacy seals of any kind work.

“I don’t think users really understand or distinguish that Webtrust is different from TRUSTe and BBBOnline or any other seal.” But businesses have learned that there is real value for companies that adopt privacy policies.

Still, just three weeks ago, Rep. Tom Campbell, R-CA, and Tom Udall, D-NM, introduced new legislation calling for a government-sanctioned Web privacy program in which the Federal Trade Commission awards and establishes seals of approval to sites that meet stricter guidelines that those currently guaranteed by BBBOnline and TRUSTe.

Under the rules proposed by the lawmakers, Web sites could display a free, government-backed seal of approval that would be issued by the FTC in exchange for the company’s voluntary but contractual and legally binding commitment to collect only personal identifying information that has been authorized by the consumer in advance; to keep the information up-to-date; not to use the data for any purpose other than what was specified at the time of collection; and to give the individual access to the data to verify its accuracy.

According to guidelines the lawmakers want, the FTC seal could be revoked or presumably used as a means for establishing a prosecution case against the company if violated.

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