Consortium Formed to Set Privacy Guidelines

SAN MATEO (04/10/2000) - TWENTY-SIX COMPANIES banded together at Spring Internet World in Los Angeles last week to form the Personalization Consortium, in an attempt to tackle some of the tricky privacy issues surrounding personalization technology.

The group will act as a forum for the discussion of how e-businesses can use personalization technology without compromising the privacy of consumers and businesses. Founding members include American Airlines, PricewaterhouseCoopers, DoubleClick, and KPMG. The consortium has created consumer privacy guidelines, will provide education, and also intends to develop guidelines for companies wishing to deploy personalization technology as part of their marketing activities.

"One of our key issues is educating the public about what to expect in a more personalized world," said Don Peppers, co-chair of the Personalization Consortium. "We think by putting these standards together, we'll have a vocabulary to speak with the public."

The consortium's consumer privacy guidelines -- which include providing users fair access to their personal information, responsible linking of online and offline information, and criteria for opt-in and opt-out privacy -- will form the foundation for a privacy compliance program. Although the consortium advocates self-regulation of privacy, it will provide both self-assessment mechanisms and independent verification of privacy-policy adherence to consortium members.

In the e-commerce explosion, personalization has emerged as a tool companies can use to encourage customers to return to an e-business site. It allows users some control over their Internet experience, while giving advertisers and e-businesses the chance to direct targeted content at specific groups of users and streamline online experiences.

"I think personalization really benefits the advertisers the most," said John Smythe, a Webmaster at an online sporting goods company. "Personalization technology gives the user a more tailored site, and they don't have to watch all the irrelevant noise, but you also have to reveal a lot about yourself to get that benefit, and advertisers do backflips to get that [information]."

Although most consumers are willing to share information in return for better online service, issues surrounding how that data is handled are still a point of contention.

"The concern a lot of people have is that often it's an all-or-nothing concept:

You fill out one huge form to get access to a site," said Abner Germanow, research manager for the Internet security program at IDC, in Framingham, Mass.

"A lot of the concern is about, 'If I give you all this personal information about me, what do I get in return?' "Germanow believes users are more worried about what happens to information behind the scenes.

It is this situation that the Personalization Consortium hopes to avoid by balancing the benefits of personalization and minimizing exploitation of that information.

The Personalization Consortium, in Wakefield, Mass., is at www.personalization.org.

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