[ISN] Who's Taking Privacy's Pulse?

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Tue Mar 09 1999 - 00:38:27 PST

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    3:00 a.m.  8.Mar.99.PST
    Who's Taking Privacy's Pulse?
    by James Glave 
    Wired News
    A Web survey expected to influence the course of federal privacy laws was
    tailored and funded by industry groups that have battled such legislation
    for years. 
    "This is the foxes stepping in to the henhouse and saying, 'We'll count
    the chickens,'" said Jason Catlett, CEO of privacy advocacy firm
    Junkbusters.  "It is very upsetting." 
    The research, to be conducted this week by 15 graduate students at
    Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, will scrutinize a
    random sampling of hundreds of Web sites.
    Starting Monday, the students will tally which sites request data such as
    income and ZIP code, and how many of those sites disclose their practices. 
    The findings will form the basis of a Federal Trade Commission report to
    Congress that will recommend -- or counsel against -- consumer privacy
    protection laws.
    Various reports have referred to the research as a government survey, and
    the Online Privacy Alliance, a lobbying group, has not gone out of its way
    to correct the misperception. An ad banner supplied to Web site owners by
    a TrustE entity called the Privacy Partnership warns "The government
    checks Web sites for privacy policies March 8." 
    On Friday, former FTC commissioner Mary Azcuenaga told an audience at an
    ecommerce conferencethat the research was funded by the commission.
    She was mistaken, and that has privacy advocates worried. 
    "This [survey] was industry-generated," said Mary Culnan, an associate
    professor at Georgetown who is leading the study. 
    "I came in in the middle of the movie," Culnan said. "... the Direct
    Marketing Association initiated this -- they had conversations with the
    FTC about wanting to do a follow-up survey." 
    The Direct Marketing Association is one of more than a dozen companies and
    lobbying groups that Culnan said had been "participating in the design of
    the study." Others include the Online Privacy Alliance, Time Warner,
    America Online, IBM, TrustE, Tandem, Compaq, Microsoft, Ernst and Young,
    Better Business Bureau Online, MatchLogic, PrivaSeek and eBay. 
    The Direct Marketing Association and other industry groups have
    successfully blocked legislation to protect consumer privacy online,
    claiming that such laws would impede their ability to do business.
    Culnan is a respected researcher, statistician, and the author of numerous
    books and journal articles on privacy and public policy. She has testified
    before Congress on a range of privacy issues, including telecommunications
    privacy, public records, direct marketing, credit reporting, and private
    sector use of Social Security numbers. 
    The survey results are being audited by Ernst and Young, which recently
    began an ecommerce privacy assurance practice. 
    "The study is independent," said Culnan. "I have no stake in it. I am
    making no recommendations. I am just reporting the data." 
    The Privacy Partnership, an ad-hoc industry group opposed to consumer
    privacy regulations, has established a Web site about the Georgetown
    survey, designed to urge businesses to post privacy disclosure statements
    But the page does not mention who designed and will pay for the research. 
    FTC commissioner Sheila Anthony said that she was not concerned that the
    Direct Marketing Association backed the study. 
    "They have come to us for our methodology [used in a previous FTC-run
    survey a year ago] and we have had substantial input to make sure that the
    survey does provide some representation of what is going on out there," 
    Anthony said.
    "Of all the industry groups, the Direct Marketing Association is among the
    most responsible," she added. "They have been providing a leadership role
    for their members on privacy and how important it is." 
    The Direct Marketing Association could not be reached for comment on
    Mark Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center,
    said that the survey is a pointless exercise in lieu of real privacy
    "The time for surveys has passed," said Rotenberg. "The current survey is
    largely a stalling tactic -- they are trying to put off a serious
    discussion as to whether self-regulation works." 
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