Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Privacy, reputation and ethics

The public's grievances with tracking are not going away, fuelled by articles in the WSJ, extensions which block tracking and murmurings of a tracking ban. In an attempt to engage with and inform the public, the WAA have recently updated their new code of ethics. In it they propose a list of statements that websites should agree to that centre around privacy, transparency, consumer control and education.

Although some believe that a ban is inevitable, if hard to enforce, we can begin to fight back by considering how a website owner's decision to monitor traffic responsibly can affect their reputation. The decision to adhere to the code or not will likely be affected by how concerned a site's visitors are with privacy and data security, as well as the policy/code's perceived cost (implementing and enforcing the relevant processes, displaying it on the site, etc):

Although websites and their visitors vary, it's likely that in order to avoid the potential negative effects on reputation for a relatively small implementation cost, most would choose to publicly sign up to the code. With individual complaints now able to build momentum into public campaigns, websites need to take reputation management very seriously. Would publicly signing up to the WAA code pacify privacy campaigners? Not entirely - the code requires the public's trust that it is being faithfully enforced, and trust is one of the current stumbling blocks. This is why a clear, intuitive argument for tracking, backed up by the site's privacy policy and support for the code is required to provide a compelling case for why tracking is in both parties' interests, and that upholding the principles of the code are too.

And yet not everyone is aware of this debate, or have yet to take the decision. This is where the WAA needs to keep on evangelising, talking to the likes of the WSJ and putting across our side of the argument. We can do our bit, by signing up to the code and improving our own sites' privacy policies. With both sides of the argument becoming more vocal, the number of those existing in blissful ignorance should soon diminish.

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