IN THIS WEEK'S privacy-related news, the commercial sector retreated red-faced from a high-profile embarrassment, while a Clinton administration slip of the tongue spoke volumes.
DoubleClick, the banner-ads company recently under fire for correlating information about users' online interests with offline personal information, finally took responsibility for their privacy blunder. In addition, the company has retained two new in-house privacy advisors.
President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno presumably thought that their "The Electronic Frontier: the Challenge of Unlawful Conduct Involving the Use of the Internet" (available at http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/cybercrime/unlawful.htm) would be a success with online watchdog groups, stating as it does in the executive summary that "online conduct [be] treated in a manner consistent with the way offline conduct is treated, in a technology-neutral manner, and in a manner that takes account of other important societal interests, such as privacy and protection of civil liberties." However, the devil's in the details, and recommendations buried within the report drew the fire of such groups as the ACLU, which called the report's requests for diminishing anonymity, decreasing privacy, and abridging free-speech rights online "a law-enforcement wish list."
Meanwhile, the FTC's comment period on "safe harbor" child-protection guidelines—a self-regulatory alternative to the 1998's Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)—ends on 6 April, the same month that COPPA is scheduled to go into effect. COPPA, criticized for protecting children's privacy at the expense of that of adults, covers the procurement and use of information from children 13 and under. To comment on the FTC's alternative guidelines, visit http://www.ftc.gov/os/2000/02/safeharborfr.htm. The FTC also posted a victory for financial privacy earlier this month, ordering credit-reporting giant Trans Union Corp. to stop selling accumulated personal data to companies using such information to target consumers; doing so is, the commission ruled unanimously, a violation of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.