BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : MARCH 20, 2000 ISSUE
COVER STORY

How to Draw the Line


DISPLAY YOUR PRACTICES
Privacy policies should be mandatory, easy to find, and written in plain English. Companies should clearly state why they are collecting information and collect no more data than they need for that purpose. Data collected for one purpose shouldn't be used for another without consent. A simple set of icons should be developed to warn people about privacy threats.

GIVE PEOPLE A CHOICE
If a business wants to collect information about a consumer's health, finances, or sexual orientation, it should ask them for permission first. This allows a Web surfer to opt-in. The same rule applies if the company wants to resell personal data or share it with advertising networks. In all other situations, users should be given the option to withhold their information by checking a prominently displayed, easy-to-understand box. This is called opt-out.

SHOW ME THE DATA
Consumers must have the ability to look at and correct sensitive information, such as financial and medical data. There should also be a mechanism for double-checking a profile that combines personal information with online habits or is shared with another company. This is especially urgent when a profile triggers offensive or unwanted marketing solicitations. Web sites and marketers should share the responsibility for this.

PLAY FAIR OR PAY
These rules won't enforce themselves. A broad law ensuring privacy online must be passed at a federal level. An agency, such as the FTC, would enforce and interpret the law according to the Fair Information Practices. Companies should also periodically disclose their practices in some kind of public record, such as SEC filings or trusted third-party audits.



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