Sounding Privacy Alarms

SAN MATEO (07/25/2000) - A nonprofit Web privacy trade organization received wide industry support Tuesday for a program that aims to educate online consumers about their privacy rights and options.

TRUSTe's Privacy Partnership 2000 initiative will include a print, online, and broadcast advertising blitz in August. The campaign will promote TRUSTe's Privacy Seal, which signifies that a Web site adheres to consumer-friendly privacy policies -- a sort of "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" for privacy.

"This aims to educate and empower online users, to show them the resources to control their personal information, to protect their privacy online," said TRUSTe CEO and Executive Director Bob Lewin in a teleconference. "Everyone has the right to control their personal information, and the TRUSTe privacy seal is an effective guidepost."

Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp., AltaVista Co., America Online Inc., BrightStreet, Excite@Home Inc., IBM Corp., Lycos Inc., Persona, RealNetworks Inc., Verizon Communications, and Yahoo Inc. were among the partners endorsing the initiative by TRUSTe, which is based in San Jose, Calif.

The companies involved - some of whom, such as Seattle-based RealNetworks and Microsoft, have been accused in the past of violating users' privacy by secretly collecting information on them - obviously want users to feel safe while they are on the Web - particularly when they are spending money on e-commerce sites.

Last week, Microsoft announced a new feature in its Internet Explorer 5.5 browser that will alert users to third-party cookies on their systems, which are used to collect data such on Web habits and other issues.

"Healthy skepticism is actually the reason we are all here," said Pat McGregor, chief information security architect at Intel, in Santa Clara, Calif. "If people are not cautious about what happens to their personal information, they lose a lot. We are trying to educate them to have that healthy skepticism."

TRUSTe's print advertisements will run in 26 daily newspapers in the United States, including USA Today's Sunday supplement in some regions. The campaign will also include banner advertising that TRUSTe expects to benefit from 20 million to 40 million impressions, and a radio public service announcement.

"Consumers are actually very skeptical about the promises that online companies make" about privacy, said Scott Wills, CEO of Cupertino, Calif.-based BrightStreet, which builds online marketing and advertising tools. "What they really want the most, to make those claims credible, is access and control of their information."

The Protect Your Privacy Online campaign will direct users to TRUSTe's Web site, where they will be able to access a plethora of information on privacy, Lewin said.

"What we need in order to advance this significantly is an effective set of tools, education, and an engaged set of industry players who are committed to privacy protection," said Richard Purcell, Microsoft's chief privacy officer.

Bob Trott is an InfoWorld associate news editor based in Seattle.

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