One More Chance on Privacy

Creating, maintaining and enforcing a privacy policy is a hassle. It’s much easier to give privacy lip service while using cookies, registration, and server logs to understand our customers.

For two years the industry has dragged its feet on privacy, according to audits by the Federal Trade Commission. The European Union has passed a strict privacy regime, but U.S. negotiators are resisting any such effort here. Now IBM has given us one more chance to deliver a simple notice that will tell customers what we’re doing with the data we collect on them.

Big Blue said on March 31 its plan to pull ads from sites that lack a stated privacy policy, which you can create at the TRUSTe Web site. The site even has a Wizard to help you through the process.

There’s no standard for what a privacy statement may say, so you can make either your current procedures or your business plans’ procedures your privacy statement. There’s not even a requirement that the statement be easy to understand. Just post the statement, pay the modest (US$300.-US$4,999.) license fee, which varies with your sales, and you’re golden — at least with IBM.

While press reports indicated that you should worry about IBM pulling its ads from your site, the real enemy here is Congress, the bureaucracy and (over the long term) voters who don’t understand database marketing and so fear it. There’s no guarantee that following IBM’s “demand” will head off new laws and regulations. But so far those battles have been won by the industry, and this latest move could insulate you in the coming policy debate.

But let’s talk about it. Do you have a privacy policy, and what is it? Will you now create one, and what will it be? And should the industry support a standard policy before the U.S. government tries to impose one on us?

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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