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    Background

    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 and post a privacy policy and become a supporter of the Alliance.

    The Alliance is helping to define privacy policy for the new electronic 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 stated policy.

    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 global and domestic privacy policy and its impact on the future of e-commerce.

    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.

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