Web marketers wary of expanding access to databases

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Web marketers are warning that moves to let consumers access personal information gathered about them online could impact other forms of database marketing, forcing disclosure of information gathered offline.

"It's going to be very hard to separate out when you have commingling," Daniel Jaye, chief technology officer of Engage Technologies, told fellow members of a 41-member panel named by the Federal Trade Commission to advise it on issues of access and security for online information.

Richard Purcell, director of Microsoft Corp.'s corporate privacy group, said the task is nearly impossible. "I don't understand how you can define 'online,' when it is unknown if information is gathered on- or offline."

The FTC formed the panel last month to examine the technical problems of providing access to information gathered while ensuring that consumers requesting access are really who they claim to be.

HIGHER EXPECTATIONS

The panel, which is due to make a report to the FTC by May 15, acknowledged that the public expects more privacy for online data than for information gathered offline.

`There are two sets of rules," said Ted Wham, director of membership for the Excite@home network. "A lot of the practices in the interactive world are not different from the direct marketing world, but there is a higher standard expected by the public."

David Hoffman, representing Intel Corp., also noted that Web marketers sometimes gather information that they don't keep long; and he warned that rigid access rules could force companies to retain information that otherwise would not be kept. Ron Plesser, an attorney who represents major database companies, expressed concern that providing access could defeat the value of "proprietary" databases.

IN THEIR INTEREST

Consumer groups, however, insist that consumers should have the right to see and alter online data, and that access is in marketers' interest. "Access is a check on accountability," said Deirdre Mulligan, staff counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology.

According to Ms. Mulligan, access would boost consumer confidence in Web transactions and help ensure that marketers have accurate consumer data.

Copyright February 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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