Businesses, consumers, reporters and policy makers at home and abroad
are watching closely to see how well the private sector fulfills its
commitment to create a credible system of self-regulation that protects
privacy online. One of the most important signs that self-regulation
works is the growing number of web sites posting privacy policies.
The Online Privacy Alliance -- a cross-industry coalition of more than
60 global corporations and associations -- encourages companies to adopt
medium and to foster an online environment in which businesses respect
personal privacy. Its supporters include some of the biggest names in
U.S. business and e-commerce -- Microsoft, IBM, America Online, Viacom,
Disney, AT&T, KPMG -- as well as smaller start-up businesses and companies
not routinely associated with cyberspace -- eBay, Dun & Bradstreet, Ford
and Procter & Gamble.
With the counsel of former Federal Trade Commissioner Christine Varney
and in only a few months, this diverse group of companies managed to
reach consensus on policies that will help shape the future of
e-commerce for decades to come. The Alliance created guidelines for
privacy policies, a special policy on the collection of individually
identifiable information from children and a framework for enforcement
that gives policy teeth. Many Alliance companies are now working on one
of several "seal programs" -- independent third-parties like, BBBOnLine
and TRUSTe, that will monitor a company's compliance with its own
When the guidelines and framework were released last summer, U.S. and
European policy makers responded very favorably. But the same policy
makers in Washington D.C. and Brussels who appreciated the Alliance's
achievements also are demanding more.
With new European laws on privacy taking effect this fall and the
threat of restrictive federal online privacy legislation next year,
policy makers gave the private sector only a few months to broadly
educate businesses on the need to adopt privacy policies and join the
work of the Alliance. Businesses with web sites have a very small
window of opportunity, only a few months, to demonstrate their
commitment by posting online privacy policies.
Interest by the White House, Congress, the Federal Trade Commission,
Department of Commerce and others has been fueled by the fact that the
Internet is redefining global commerce. E-commerce, the virtual
marketplace, is booming. More than 100 million people around the world
will log on this year alone to conduct research, send e-mail and shop.
In less than a decade, the Internet has spawned thousands of new
businesses and provided existing businesses of every size with a
powerful and dynamic tool for expansion.
But as merchants in the real world know, people won't shop in dangerous
neighborhoods. Even companies indifferent to government interference
are aware that consumer concerns over privacy affect business.
Polls, surveys, studies and stories in newspapers and on TV show that
concerns about the way businesses treat personal information and secure
transactions in cyberspace influence whether people shop online. To
assure the growth of electronic commerce, it is imperative that
consumers feel safe online.
Supporters of the Online Privacy Alliance are committed to ethical
standards that foster an online environment where consumers feel at
ease. This fall, on trade show floors and conference stages, in
boardrooms and meeting rooms, in person and in writing, Alliance
supporters are telling their peers in industry why privacy protection
online is important. They are explaining the need for privacy policies,
providing links to resource material to help companies in creating such
policies and recruiting more companies to join the Alliance effort.
Alliance supporters are recognized by both policy makers and the media
as some of the leading voices from the private sector on issues related
to privacy online. Alliance supporters are engaged through electronic
mailing lists and meetings in on-going, high-level discussions on
Because the Alliance represents such a diversity of businesses,
Alliance supporters are often invited by government officials at the
highest level to present the position of the private sector on privacy
matters and provide insight into practices that reflect the best
thinking in the industry.
The Alliance invites the participation of any business engaged online.
Alliance supporters come from nearly every industrial sector including
technology, telecommunications, financial services, Internet and online
service providers, database services, retail, entertainment, marketing
and publishing. Information on the Alliance and its activities can be
found on our website or by calling 202/244-8854.