Internet privacy - protect your online privacy

Most governments have adopted a hands-off approach to Internet privacy - watching and waiting for the Web industry to regulate itself. Organisations like Truste still say that this is the right course to take. Truste oversees privacy policies for more than 1300 Web sites, including those belonging to RealNetworks and Amazon.com's Alexa. According to Bob Lewin, CEO of Truste, RealNetworks' response to allegations of privacy abuses demonstrates that self-regulation works.

Lewin says that Truste convinced RealNetworks to issue a patch that prevents its software from assigning a unique identification number to each user. Truste also persuaded the company executives to appoint a chief privacy officer and to release RealPlayer 7.0 using an opt-in model, so that consumers must actively choose to create a unique ID number, rather than the more common opt-out model used by the majority of Web sites. "We did all of that in the space of one week," Lewin says. "You show me any government body that moves that fast."

Unfortunately, Truste's influence is limited to its licensees, which don't include such Internet heavyweights as Amazon.com and DoubleClick (see "Should you trust Truste?"). Although Truste performs quarterly audits of its members' Web sites to ensure that the privacy policy stated on the site matches the member's practices, the organisation does not specify what kinds of information members can collect, nor what they can do with that information. "The problem with self-regulation is that it rewards bad actors," says EPIC's Rotenberg. Once a Web site begins generating revenue by selling user profiles and personal information, he explains, other Web sites will have to follow suit in order to remain competitive.

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Daniel Tynan

PC World
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