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Privacy Digest 9.08 2/15/00

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<font size=+2><b>PRIVACY Forum Archive Document</b></font><br>

<A href="/privacy"><h3>PRIVACY Forum Home Page</h3></A><p>
<A href="http://www.vortex.com"><h4><i>Vortex Technology Home Page</i></h4></A><p>
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PRIVACY Forum Digest      Tuesday, 15 February 2000      Volume 09 : Issue 08


            Moderated by Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com)         
              Vortex Technology, Woodland Hills, CA, U.S.A.
                       ===== PRIVACY FORUM =====              

                 The PRIVACY Forum is supported in part by
               the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery)     
	         Committee on Computers and Public Policy,      
		 Cable &amp; Wireless USA, Cisco Systems, Inc., 
                           and Telos Systems.
                                 - - -
             These organizations do not operate or control the     
          PRIVACY Forum in any manner, and their support does not
           imply agreement on their part with nor responsibility   
        for any materials posted on or related to the PRIVACY Forum.

	The Damage Control Follies!
	   (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)

 *** Please include a RELEVANT "Subject:" line on all submissions! ***
            *** Submissions without them may be ignored! ***

The Internet PRIVACY Forum is a moderated digest for the discussion and
analysis of issues relating to the general topic of privacy (both personal
and collective) in the "information age" of the 1990's and beyond.  The
moderator will choose submissions for inclusion based on their relevance and
content.  Submissions will not be routinely acknowledged.

All submissions should be addressed to "privacy@vortex.com" and must have
RELEVANT "Subject:" lines; submissions without appropriate and relevant
"Subject:" lines may be ignored.  Excessive "signatures" on submissions are
subject to editing.  Subscriptions are via an automatic list server system;
for subscription information, please send a message consisting of the word
"help" (quotes not included) in the BODY of a message to:
"privacy-request@vortex.com".  Mailing list problems should be reported to

All messages included in this digest represent the views of their
individual authors and all messages submitted must be appropriate to be
distributable without limitations. 

The PRIVACY Forum archive, including all issues of the digest and all
related materials, is available via anonymous FTP from site "ftp.vortex.com",
in the "/privacy" directory.  Use the FTP login "ftp" or "anonymous", and
enter your e-mail address as the password.  The typical "README" and "INDEX"
files are available to guide you through the files available for FTP
access.  PRIVACY Forum materials may also be obtained automatically via
e-mail through the list server system.  Please follow the instructions above
for getting the list server  "help" information, which includes details
regarding the "index" and "get" list server commands, which are used to access
the PRIVACY Forum archive.  

All PRIVACY Forum materials are available through the Internet Gopher system
via a gopher server on site "gopher.vortex.com".  Access to PRIVACY Forum
materials is also available through the Internet World Wide Web (WWW) via
the Vortex Technology WWW server at the URL: "http://www.vortex.com";
full keyword searching of all PRIVACY Forum files is available via
WWW access.


     Quote for the day:

	"This isn't a real estate deal!"

		-- Mr. Applegate (Ray Walston)
                   "Damn Yankees" (Warner Bros.; 1958)


Date:    Tue, 15 Feb 2000 10:01 PST
From:    lauren@vortex.com (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)
Subject: The Damage Control Follies!

Greetings.  Step right up ladies and gentlemen, and see for yourselves one of
the irritating ironies of the information era!  More convoluted than Sammy
the Snake Boy!  More confusing than Pat the half-man, half-woman!  Your head
will spin faster than after a ride on the Lightning Coaster!  Come and see:
The Damage Control Follies!

It hasn't been a good couple of weeks for many of the firms that we've taken
to task here in the PRIVACY Forum in the past.  Concerns over DoubleClick,
Inc.'s practices have triggered organized protests in various quarters, and
related filings with the Federal Trade Commission attempting to force
further action.  A proposed federal law would reportedly make Web cookies
illegal for some purposes unless affirmative permission were first granted
by the Web site visitor.  Reports that some high-profile medical information
Web sites have been "leaking" personal information to outside parties, in
contradiction to their stated privacy policies, have fostered a new round of
skepticism about such operations.  Major sites have suffered thefts of
sensitive personal customer information.  And this is just a *very* partial

To top it all off, the recent spate of "denial of service" (DoS) attacks on
major Web sites has underscored the fragility of some aspects of the
Internet infrastructure.  Two current "People For Internet Responsibility"
statements about these attacks and reactions to them are at:




Many firms have together spent untold millions (billions?) of dollars on
advertising and other efforts, attempting to train consumers into a
sufficiently relaxed "comfort level" so that they'll come to depend upon the
Internet, trust the sites, and happily part with their dollars (and in 
some cases, with their personal information as well).

While many of these efforts have been made in good faith, others should be
subject to considerable scrutiny.  It seemed inevitable that as recent
events have unfolded we'd see the public relations engines shift into
high gear in an attempt to minimize the potential damage.  

Don't be fooled though--in most cases, this all appears to amount to little
more than window dressing, with the underlying business practices continuing
essentially unchanged.  It's obvious that a main goal of these efforts is
not really to alter the ways in which Web visitors are handled, but rather
to try stave off the many legislative efforts which are appearing at both
state and federal levels.  Such legislation threatens to undermine the wild
and woolly self-regulatory lifestyle that has dominated the e-commerce
landscape to this point.

One popular tactic seems to be the establishment of special company-operated
"privacy" Web pages to provide additional information to try comfort
potential customers, much in the manner of the traditional "cookies are your
friends" information pages which are a staple at many sites.  DoubleClick has
taken this one better, establishing a seemingly completely separate Web site
(http://www.privacychoices.org) to try popularize their party line that so
long as you have some way to "opt-out" of their profiling and tracking,
there's nothing to worry about...  For more on the DoubleClick controversy,
please see:


What's missing from most of these public relations blitzes, of course, is any
fundamental change in the business practices that so many Web users find
intrusive and offensive, and that have triggered the legislative and other
actions.  It seems as if many of these firms feel that if they throw around
the word "privacy" enough on their pages and in their new Web site domain
names, consumers will be satisfied and won't notice that basically little
(if anything) has really changed in terms of the actual operations.

We continue to hear the same excuses and explanations that we've heard all
along.  DoubleClick, for example, continues to expound its own statistics
that most people don't mind profiling and really like to get the
personalized ads that result.  But if people love this stuff so much, why
not avoid all of this controversy and switch to an "opt-in" model, where Web
visitors explicitly sign-up for such data collection, profiling, and ads?
Why should everyone be "enrolled" by default and have it be their
responsibility to figure out how to "opt-out" of these programs, amongst all
the glitz and graphics of so many e-commerce sites.  People have other things
to do when they visit sites--most persons have just assumed (incorrectly, as
we've seen) that they don't have to take special actions to protect
themselves from such information gathering, tracking, and profiling

If people really were as enamored of these systems as the companies claim,
there'd be no problem at all getting *plenty* of sign-ups in an *opt-in*
environment.  The fact that these firms still generally insist on opt-out
models provides the real insight, public relations efforts notwithstanding.

So, ladies and gentlemen, step into the tent and enjoy The Damage Control
Follies for all that they're worth!  With apologies to 1977's 
"Hardware Wars": "You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kiss your personal 
information goodbye!  Get in line now!"

Lauren Weinstein
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum - http://www.vortex.com
Co-Founder, PFIR: People for Internet Responsibility - http://www.pfir.org
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy


End of PRIVACY Forum Digest 09.08
<A href="/privacy"><h3>PRIVACY Forum Home Page</h3></A><p>
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