Privacy ad campaign to launch

Microsoft joins a major industry push, including Yahoo, Excite, Infoseek, and others, that is donating $3 million in ad banners.

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Microsoft today announced it is joining a group of eight Internet portal sites--including Yahoo, Excite, Altavista, and Infoseek--which are donating $3 million in Web ad banners for a campaign to educate Internet users on privacy issues.

Users who click on the banners will be taken to a Web site containing privacy education materials for both consumers and businesses. The site is hosted by campaign sponsor TRUSTe.

The campaign is also backed by America Online, Lycos, Snap Online, and Netscape Communications.

The timing of the three-week campaign, due to launch October 12, is no accident--it launches as the European Union is slated to implement strict privacy regulations October 25.

TRUSTe, an industry-backed organization that certifies Web site privacy practices, hopes more sites will display a series of 10 privacy ad banners. So far, 75 sites, most of them among TRUSTe's 270 backers, have signed up.

"We are looking for to this to become a grassroots campaign like the [anti-censorship] Blue Ribbon campaign," said TRUSTe executive director Susan Scott.

The nine portal sites backing the campaign have donated 150 million ad impressions, and other supporters have added 50 million more. Although the donated ad banners will generate plenty of exposure, it costs the contributing sites very little because most have more ad banners than they can sell anyway.

"This isn't the end of the story, but it's a very decisive start to an organic and growing campaign," said Saul Klein, a Microsoft executive who had taken a leading role in the Net privacy debate with his previous company, Firefly Networks, which was acquired by Microsoft in April.

Called Partnership for Privacy, the effort is the first broad consumer education campaign on privacy. To date, most industry activity has sought to get Web sites to adopt and publicize their privacy policies--and to lobby against new privacy legislation.

In the United States, the industry has worked hard to convince the White House to stick with backing self-regulation, despite some congressional sentiment for Internet privacy laws. A bill that would prevent Web sites attempting to obtain personal information from children without first getting parental permission advanced out of a Senate committee last week.