IBM took a bold step last week to lead the way against government intervention in the privacy arena by telling its online advertising customers that it will pull advertising from any Web site in the United States and Canada that doesn't post clear privacy guidelines.
Because Big Blue is the second largest advertiser on the Web — behind Microsoft — and will spend $60 million this year, this is a call to action that can't be ignored. Big Blue advertises on 800 sites around the world and estimates that only 30 percent will be able to comply at this point.
Sounds like things may not bode well for the latest Internet surf day, where the Federal Trade Commission had Georgetown University check 300 Web sites last month for their privacy policies. (Remember last year the industry flunked big time.) The FTC is scheduled to report those findings to Congress later this spring.
IBM said three factors played in its decision: its own history of protecting consumer privacy, research showing that consumer concerns about privacy are inhibiting e-commerce growth and the need for the industry to prove that it can regulate itself. IBM announced a June 1 enforcement deadline, which will allow companies that don't have privacy policies to come up with ones in the next few weeks.
The government keeps saying it doesn't want to get involved because legislation may be too inflexible and become outdated too quickly, but it will if the industry doesn't get on the ball. It's forward-thinking companies like IBM that may save us from bureaucrats adding their two cents. Will anyone else follow its lead?