January 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

Report Blasts Web Retailers on Privacy

Don Davis

Editor in Chief

Few of the Web's top 100 shopping sites adequately guard consumer privacy, charges a new report by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a research group in Washington, D.C.
     The report studied retailers' compliance with fair information practices, a set of principles that provide basic privacy protections. It also looked at whether shopping sites use profile-based advertising and "cookies" to track browsing and shopping patterns. Both of these controversial techniques have been the subject of recent investigations.
     Among the report's findings, 18 top shopping sites do not display a privacy policy, 35 have profile-based advertisers operating on their pages, and 87 use cookies. None of the top 100 adequately addressed all elements of fair information practice guidelines. The center says privacy policies at many Web sites are typically confusing, incomplete and inconsistent.
     "We think that consumers are more at risk today than they were in 1997, when we first examined privacy practices on the Web," says Marc Rotenberg, the center's executive director. "The profiling is more extensive and the marketing techniques are more intrusive. Anonymity, which remains crucial to privacy on the Internet, is being squeezed out by the rise of electronic commerce."

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