Privacy has long been as elusive as the mythical Fountain of Youth. The
very idea of "protecting" information about family stirs up ominous
images of powerful agencies stealing our individuality and even our
identity. The fears about privacy have grown exponentially with the Web.
But who are we protecting ourselves from? The government? Not likely,
at least in the Orwellian sense that most of us imagine it. While
Congress passes the laws and regulatory bodies enforce them, media focus
of late has been on the private sector, particularly commercial
Websites. Civil libertarians' protests against information-collecting
Websites are enigmatic given that most of this information has already
been available for years in libraries, in town halls, in departments of
motor vehicles and from countless other places. Thus it should be
understood that "privacy" is largely an illusion. While the Lewinsky
tapes raised eyebrows, the media fanfare over the issue shows that
someone, somewhere, when you least expect it, will place a higher
priority on something that compromises your privacy.
Nevertheless, the increasing commodification of personal information is
worrisome to this author, particularly when the "collectors" get their
information wrong or draw incorrect conclusions from the data they
acquire. Already, some national pharmacies have tried to sell
information about their customers to marketers. (In at least one case
the pharmacy backed off after critics severely chastised them for the
plan). No doubt other organizations will move to sell medical records
to the highest bidder. What does this mean to the public? ...
... middle of paper ...
...we promise your privacy, we have someone who makes
sure we keep that promise.
However, many other TRUSTe licensees provide more extensive privacy
statements for visitors to scrutinize. Nevertheless, trust and privacy
guarantees don't come cheap. Costs for TRUSTe licenses range from $299
to almost $5,000, depending on the licensee's corporate revenue. While
$5,000 may not be a lot for a Microsoft, $299 is quite a bit for a
start-up firm with no annual revenue. This license allows TRUSTe
clients to showcase a mark of trust that could easily (but not legally)
be copied and used by any Website developer who wants to capitalize on
trust. With all the trust-brokers on the Web, the question remains
whether "buying trust" is any less elusive than the Fountain of Youth.
Moreover, one should ask, who is worthy of trust management?
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