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December 1, 1998

BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU STARTS TESTING PRIVACY SYSTEM

By CBR Staff Writer

The Better Business Bureau has begun accepting applications from web sites wishing to participate in the testing phase of its BBBOnline privacy seal program that will guarantee visitors to those web sites that the site maintains an appropriate privacy policy.

The announcement was made at this week’s US government e-commerce policy event and comes a little later than planned (10/30/98). Companies will have to adhere to the organization’s compliance assessment model – an eight-page document that lays out the basis for a web site’s privacy policy. BBBOnline has a dispute resolution mechanism through which it will try and settle disputes, but also says it will lobby the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to get involved in the more serious breaches of privacy.

The new system, which rivals that established by fellow non- profit privacy maven Truste, will be launched for real in the first quarter of next year, probably in early March. Privacy is this year’s big thing largely because of the European Union’s data protection directive, which officially came into force last month, although most EU countries are still to pass the appropriate legislation. The directive bars companies from moving personal data from an EU country to one with inadequate levels of data protection – and that includes the US in the eyes of the EU.

The US has no overreaching privacy laws in place and bodies such as BBBOnline and Truste are the industry’s answer to the calls for self-regulation put out by the US government over the past year-and-a-half. If the self-regulation does not work then the US may be forced to pass legislation. The EU and the US government are negotiating a compromise between the two positions.

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