Privacy Watchdog Truste All Bark, No Bite

So-called privacy advocate Truste
slapped a trademark infringement lawsuit against American-Politics.com after the
no-name political rag allegedly posted an unpaid Truste ‘seal of approval’
on its Web site. Keeping consistent with its shameless publicity-hound
roots, San Jose-based Truste paraded a laughable million-dollar suit before
the media in a flamboyant dog-and-pony show. “This Web site is trying to
capitalize on the hard-earned reputation of the program and the sites that
join it,” opined a Truste spokesperson.


Hmmm. That’s ironic – I get the feeling Truste is trying to milk a
third-tier Web site nobody’s ever heard of for all the free publicity it
can lasso. If that weren’t the case, why else would Truste be seeking over
a million large in damages from a site that likely can’t afford to pay its
own light bill? Truste’s highly-publicized means of handling a rather
nothing burger situation speaks volumes about the company’s integrity.
Typically, the procedure that any intelligent in-house legal counsel would
follow when trying to spook a potential defendant, is to send along a
simple cease-and-desist letter. Why? Because taking a spin on the wheels of
justice costs precious time and money something that a little free legal
saber-rattling could just as easily avoid.


The facts is, Truste hasn’t been in the news lately, and this seemed like
as good a time as any to make headlines. And that’s about the only thing
Truste has excelled at. For the most part, Truste is little more than a
Nerf seal of approval that gives a handful of newbie consumers a warm and
fuzzy feeling when patronizing participating partner Web sites. When those
participating vendors are guilty of privacy policy violations, don’t look
for Truste to take any action. That’s because the company’s more than 1,000
partners are all paying customers, and Truste would be hard pressed to bite
the hands that feed ’em.


A Truste spokesperson bragged, “We are filing a major-league lawsuit
against a company that is hoodwinking everybody on the Net.” Oh, the drama.
Looking ahead, American-Politics.com will scramble to remove Truste’s tired
logo and the plaintiff will quietly drop its lawsuit after all the fanfare
subsides. That said, here’s what I see in Truste’s bleak future. E-commerce
used to be some big, scary, newfangled concept for offline consumers, and
Truste readily built its entire business off just that very fear. That’s
hardly the case these days with numerous payment safeguards and established
Internet brand names crowding Wall Street and Main Street alike.
Increasingly, Net savvy consumers have almost no problems shopping online
armed with a simple credit card and a little common sense.


That spells bad news for Truste.


I see Truste eventually going the way of the do-do just like those cutesy
“Best of the Web” award buttons that crowded home pages all over the Net in
the Web’s early days. Web designers realized that their self worth wasn’t
tied to some useless vanity plate, and the Post-Its quickly became tacky.
Online retailers will begin to realize the same thing about Truste and its
suspect track record as a privacy advocate. The cost of posting a Truste
logo on your Web site will far outweigh any conceivable benefits from the
junket; and once that happens, Truste’s bread-and-butter revenue stream
will dry up.


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