Disney Joins Online Privacy Campaign

At least one company appears to have been listening when Microsoft (NYSE: MSFT) laid out a plan last week to force online advertisers to improve their privacy measures.

The Walt Disney Co.’s (NYSE: DIS) Buena Vista Internet Group says it will stop buying ads on Internet sites that do not post their privacy policies. The company’s GO Network Web portal, hosted by Infoseek Corp. (Nasdaq: SEEK), will also stop accepting ads from such companies. The new policy will take effect October 1st of this year.

Disney’s announcement follows a similar but broader statement by Microsoft Executive Vice President and CEO Bob Herbold. The computing giant said it will police its own advertising more carefully, as Disney will, to only do business with companies that guard an online shopper’s privacy. In addition, Microsoft plans to help other Web-based companies implement strict privacy policies with two new Microsoft products — Privacy Wizard and Passport.

In addition to the GO Network, Buena Vista will implement its policy at Disney.com, ESPN.com, Family.com, ABC.com and ABCNEWS.com, all of which are owned by Disney. Disney and Infoseek launched GO Network in January to provide a home for all of the Disney-owned Web sites.

The company is not embracing the notion that it is following Microsoft’s lead, however. “Since 1996, Disney has worked with various government and advocacy organizations to develop thoughtful, responsible and comprehensive standards related to the gathering of personal data from online consumers, particularly children,” Buena Vista Internet Group President Steve Wadsworth said. “We feel it is mission critical to the continued growth of the Internet that [the online sales] industry takes active steps to increase consumer confidence and deliver private-sector solutions to concerns regarding online privacy protections.”

However, just like Microsoft, Wadsworth said Disney executives “encourage our colleagues to follow suit.”

What They Want

The minor policy change should not be too difficult for Internet companies to make, since it appears to be simply a matter of adding a few more lines of text to a Web page.

Disney and Infoseek are calling for a “detailed explanation” of how a consumer’s personal information will be used when the consumer fills out order forms on the Internet. Disney and Infoseek said they will not dictate what the privacy policies should say, but they must follow the guidelines set by the Online Privacy Alliance.

Disney and Infoseek also will not just abandon companies they have been doing business with for years. The companies plan to help advertisers develop privacy policies and pass privacy certification programs such as those offered by TRUSTe and the Better Business Bureau’s BBBOnline.

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