September 1, 2009, 12:00 AM

Wal-Mart unveils a detailed privacy policy and publicizes it broadly in stores and online

The big retail chain has unveiled an unusually detailed privacy policy covering customer data collected online and in stores, and is going all out to spread the word about it.

Wal-Mart unveils a detailed privacy policy and publicizes it broadly in stores and online

Consumers have always been concerned about the privacy of their data online, and government regulators are paying more attention to the issue of late. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., likely with both audiences in mind, has unveiled an unusually detailed privacy policy covering customer data collected online and in stores, and is going all out to spread the word about it.

Wal-Mart planned to publicize the new policy on Walmart.com and in stores for 30 days before and after the effective date of Aug. 23, says chief privacy officer Zoe Strickland.

The aim of the privacy document is to put into one place all of Wal-Mart`s policies regarding customer data, Strickland says. "Previously, we had separate offline and online policies and didn`t provide the detail we now have in our privacy policy." The retail giant also will inform the 10-15 million customers on its e-mail mailing list via a newsletter, she says.

The privacy policy is highlighted in the left navigation bar at Walmart.com, which links to a one-page document describing key sections of Wal-Mart`s data practices. Consumers can also click to see the full document, which runs more than 3,800 words.

Mixed reviews
The Wal-Mart policy drew mixed reviews from privacy advocates. A spokesman for the Electronic Privacy Information Center expresses concern that Wal-Mart requires consumers to opt out of receiving e-mail and postal mail; he says many consumers don`t know they can do that. While the Electronic Frontier Foundation has not carefully reviewed Wal-Mart`s policy, a spokeswoman says, "It`s a great idea for companies to make it easy to read and understand their terms of service and privacy policies."

As part of the launch of the new policy, Wal-Mart has created a Privacy Preference Center where customers can choose what information they want to receive from Wal-Mart and whether the retailer can share their personal data with other companies. Consumers have to opt in to permit data-sharing, and for receiving information by phone and text message.

Wal-Mart will send other communications, such as e-mail, unless the customer opts out. In the preference center, a customer can opt out of receiving not only promotional e-mails but also of e-mails containing surveys, product reviews and customer ratings. "If you don`t want them, we don`t want to send them to you," Strickland says.

don@verticalwebmedia.com

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