INTERNAUT

Agencies can get help posting all-important statements on privacy

Shawn P. McCarthy

It has been more than a year since the Federal Trade Commission issued its scathing report about online privacy, posted at www.ftc.gov/reports/privacy3/index.htm.

FTC blasted the way that many Web sites collect personal information without informing visitors of what will be done with it.

Although FTC is not recommending regulation, privacy policy has become the Net's leading buzz phrase. Many prominent sites have complied with FTC's call for easy-to-find privacy statements.

Alliances have formed to standardize wording in privacy statements, and new tools are being developed to control the automatic gleaning of private information during site visits.

Many agencies have put visible privacy statement pointers on their Web sites.

To see examples, visit www.cia.gov/cia/notices.html#priv, www.ftc.gov/ftc/privacy1.htm and www.whitehouse.gov/WH/html/privacy.html.

A posted policy is vital when a site distributes public information via subscription or e-mail alerts because that requires collecting visitors' information.

Collection sites

Agency officials might object that their sites collect far less private data than commercial sites do. But any agency that wants to establish a relationship of trust with citizens is going to have to adhere to privacy principles.

One of the best sets of privacy goals comes from the Online Privacy Alliance, a group of 80 corporations and associations, at www.privacyalliance.org/. One area tells how to establish a site policy and gives guidelines and frameworks.

Many commercial sites participate in one of the evolving privacy seal programs that verify participation in an auditing process.

The most common seals come from BBBOnLine, a subsidiary of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, and from Truste, a privacy advocacy group in Palo Alto, Calif. See www.bbbonline.org/database/Papp/papp.cfm and www.truste.org/ .

Webmasters should start familiarizing themselves with privacy systems, because some visitors might already have them enabled.

Shawn P. McCarthy designs products for a Web search engine provider. E-mail him at smccarthy@lycos.com.

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