Web privacy needs action

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The online world is doing the right thing in developing ways for consumers to "opt out" before personal information is collected. But we're also glad to see privacy advocates and the Federal Trade Commission scrutinizing the issue. It's one where the industry must come clean.

Now is the time for Internet businesses to deliver. Consumers should have the right to know what is being collected about them online. They should have the right to correct errors in online profiling data. They should have the right to delete data that Web sites previously collected about them. They should have the right to opt out. It should be as simple for consumers to check privacy records as it is to type in y-a-h-o-o.

Here's the challenge. Be clear and open about profiling but also promote its benefits. Consumers already accept advertising as a fair price to pay for the mostly "free" Internet. We think most will prefer relevant, targeted messages and offers over scattershot generic pitches.

Here's the opportunity. Web sites need to entice consumers to trade their data for something of value. The popularity of incentives sites and free offers, such as NetZero's free Internet service, shows how informed consumers willingly make the trade.

Formation of industry coalitions to address privacy is an essential step forward. But there's also room for Web sites to compete among themselves on this issue. Some will win business and Web traffic by making consumer privacy protections and disclosure an important part of their identity (perhaps exceeding rivals' opt-out data collection policies by embracing the "opt-in" model, where consumers must consent before information is collected).

Self-regulation can work here if the industry offers real solutions to privacy concerns. We believe the Internet community can deal fairly and openly on this issue and still deliver on the Internet's promise of targeted marketing.

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