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Tech council issues privacy guide

The Information Technology Industry Council issues guidelines aimed at protecting Netizens' privacy and staving off legislation.

The Information Technology Industry Council, which boasts members from some of the computer industry's heaviest hitters, today issued a set of guidelines aimed at protecting the privacy of Netizens and staving off the long arm of the government.

The guidelines state that companies should tell consumers what kind of data they are collecting, why they are collecting it, and how it will be used. The guidelines also urge companies to limit the amount of data they collect to that which is absolutely necessary, to make sure the data they have and use is accurate, and to ensure the security of that information.

Though privacy experts applaud guidelines that aim to protect personal information in cyberspace, these guidelines might not be enough to fight off Uncle Sam.

"As privacy guidelines go, the ITI proposal is not bad," said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center and author of Technology and Privacy. "But important questions about compliance and enforcement remain unresolved. It's becoming increasingly clear that legislation will be necessary."

Plus, he added, according to a poll conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology, Netizens want privacy legislation.

Privacy has been one of the touchiest subjects on the Internet. When ordinary Netizens learned last year that people subscribing to certain databases accessible on the Net had access to personal information such as their Social Security numbers, many complained loudly.

But the truth is, Social Security numbers and other personal information--such as addresses, telephone numbers, and even magazine subscriptions--have been available on non-Net-related databases for years. While privacy experts are concerned about the dissemination of that kind of personal information, many are even more worried about the facility with which Web site owners can collect even more data. They also are concerned that many sites collect information such as Netizens' surfing habits surreptitiously through the use of cookies.

For instance, online newspapers could track their subscribers' reading habits.

But the guidelines state that companies should be forthright about any and all information they collect--including, of course, credit card information.

Many people refuse to give their credit card numbers online for fear that it will be stolen.

And consumer fear keeps consumers away.

"Consumer confidence is a key ingredient in the success of electronic commerce," stated ITI president Rhett Dawson. "ITI's action demonstrates our members' commitment to address consumer concerns about privacy in cyberspace."

Members of ITI include companies such as Apple Computer, AT&T, Compaq, Dell, Digital Equipment, Gateway 2000, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM, among others.