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Internet

Privacy "trustmark" proposed

The TRUSTe initiative challenges leading Web sites to post their privacy policies by March 1998 with "Trick or Trust."

    BOSTON -- As TRUSTe continues in its efforts to promote the privacy "trustmark," the organization today announced it was launching a new challenge dubbed "Trick or Trust."

    Susan Scott, executive director of TRUSTe, said, "On the eve of Halloween, we are challenging leading Web sites to post their privacy policies by March 1998. They can either build a trust relationship with their users, where they know what each company is doing with the information it gathers about them, or trick them."

    By March 1998, Scott said, the Federal Trade Commission is expected to review the progress the Internet community has made in regulating itself.

    "If not, we can expect to see some kind of government regulation and policy," Scott added.

    Esther Dyson, president of EDventure Holdings, which advises TRUSTe, and author of just-published Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age, is a proponent of decentralized non-government regulation in Internet privacy issues.

    "With TRUSTe we are addressing people's concerns about privacy on the Internet," said Dyson. "TRUSTe is something tangible which allows users to control their own data. We educate consumers that they have rights and that they can exercise them."

    Web sites that use the TRUSTe logo must disclose what they do with the personal data they collect from visitors. Companies that become licensed by TRUSTe pay a yearly fee that ranges from $500 to $5,000, depending on their size. These companies sign a contract with TRUSTe to abide by its privacy policies.

    Chris Stevens, senior analyst at Aberdeen Group, said, "The technology is not mature enough nor stable enough to set a policy standard. You could more easily set the policy with business practices and that's where a lot of bright, young entrepreneurs are focusing their attentions."

    So far, TRUSTe has only licensed 24 Web sites, and is in the process of raising awareness and building a brand name for the "trustmark."

    "We are trying to start a grassroots movement from consumers and vendors to make the market work," said Dyson. "My fondest hope is that TRUSTe is so successful that we have competition."