CEOs step in

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Big business has gone public big time on the privacy issue, and that's good. The CEOs of some of the largest marketers in the country have now put their names out in front of a new business-backed Privacy Leadership Initiative coalition. They promise a multimillion dollar ad campaign to educate consumers on the issue, have laid out an ambitious agenda for action and hope to show that self-regulation can work here.

Despite the resources the CEOs bring, they are almost too late. Some members of Congress from both parties see a campaign issue here and for months have been examining how to legislate controls on the ways business collects and trades personal information about consumers. And, while privacy advocacy groups should welcome the involvement of the corporate chieftains, some will regard this latest business move as a public relations Trojan Horse whose real mission is to sidetrack government action in favor or more studies or tests.

An optimistic view of the Privacy Leadership Initiative is warranted at this point. In the online world, some individual businesses are already seeking competitive advantage in the marketplace by promoting their opt-in privacy policies to consumers. But commitment at the highest corporate levels is what's needed to gain broad business support for any self-regulation program. That was so in the creation of the ad industry's national advertising self-regulation program 30 years ago, and it will be required on the privacy issue now. The CEOs have much to do.

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