AT&T, IBM Launch P3P Tools

Technology giants AT&T and IBM are introducing new tools that promote the Platform for Privacy Preferences standard, and are also likely to prompt marketers to think more seriously about online privacy.

AT&T Research Labs this month introduced Privacy Bird, an application that detects whether sites’ privacy policies are compliant with the P3P standard — which calls for them to be coded in XML and machine-readable. Additionally, the application tells users whether sites match their specified privacy settings.

The application places an icon of a bird in users’ toolbars. If a user visits a site that has a P3P privacy policy out of line with the user’s preferences, then the bird icon shows an alert. Similarly, if the user visits a site without a P3P policy, the bird shows a warning.

IBM, meanwhile, made available an add-on to its Tivoli software that helps marketers create and translate their sites’ privacy policies into P3P format. The thinking is that the Tivoli Privacy Wizard would be used by Tivoli customers, which would promote the implementation of P3P.

Both the Tivoli Privacy Wizard and Privacy Bird currently are being offered for free.

Such efforts are crucial to the development of P3P as the industry standard, supporters say.

“We’ve been working on the standards for P3P at the [World Wide Web Consortium] for five years now, and we wanted to be one of the first companies out there with software for users to protect their privacy,” said Lorrie Cranor, a developer at AT&T Research Labs and chair of the P3P Specification Working Group at the W3C. “We’ve done a lot of work to get P3P out there, trying to get all of the major Web sites to go ahead and translate all their privacy policies into P3P. This is another way of … educating the public.”

Cranor said six of the top 10 Web sites have P3P-compatible privacies, as well as 30 percent of the top 100 Web sites.

The new software comes amid increasing consumer concerns over privacy issues. Last week, Web portal Yahoo! altered a number of its privacy policies, which widened the site’s privacy-sharing options, and required users to opt-out of telephone, e-mail and direct mail marketing messages for which the site had signed them up.

Because of consumer concerns about such practices, marketers too are being forced to take a hard look at new trends in online privacy. Earlier this year, the Direct Marketing Association warned its members to adhere to P3P standards, for fear that consumers would use new privacy tools in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to block cookies delivered from their affiliated ad servers.

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