05 October 2000

Media colossi America Online and Walt Disney Internet Group have endorsed Congressional moves to adopt mandatory standards of privacy for commercial websites - the so-called McCain Bill..

But the support of both companies’ stops short of enforceable ‘opt-in’ legislation. AOL’s senior vice president for global policy George Vradenburg, giving testimony to a privacy bill panel in the Senate, argued: “In the diverse online marketplace, we believe it is impossible to mandate a 'one-size-fits-all' solution to consumer choice.”

AOL’s stated preference for an ‘opt-out’ mechanism has been criticised by the privacy lobby because it creates an unnecessarily complicated process to curb third-party use of data on web-users’ tastes and behaviour patterns. Privacy advocates told the panel that an ‘opt-in’ regime was inherently more democratic than the ‘opt-out’ regime favoured by AOL.

According to Jerry Berman, executive director of the Washington-based non-profit Centre for Democracy and Technology, “internet privacy protection should aim for informed decisions, not defaults".

Berman's submission was supported by Simson Garfinkel, internet entrepreneur and author of Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century: “Informed consent", he testified, "has become the standard in medicine, banking and other areas,” he testified.

The bill’s sponsor and chairman of the Senate panel, Congressman John McCain (Republican, Arizona), said the Commerce Committee would hold more privacy hearings in January or February, in the next session of the new Congress.

News source: CampaignLive (UK)