Web Extra: P3P: Letting Consumers Control Privacy
A sidebar to supplement CRM magazine's feature "On Time, On Target"
For the rest of the November 2001 issue of CRM magazine please click here

If your interests stray anywhere near online personalization or privacy, sooner or later the acronym P3P will appear. The Platform for Privacy Preferences Project is an attempt by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards group to bridge the gap between corporate data collection and personalization efforts and consumer indecision or hesitancy about patronizing a site.

P3P codifies a company's privacy policy in the form of a short set of multiple-choice answers to questions about the collection, use, exchange and accessibility of customer data. That information is sent to a P3P-compatible browser, and compared against privacy permissions and thresholds the user has predefined. In theory, P3P would ensure that users never visit a site that would violate their own privacy standards, because the initial P3P handshake would alert the user to a privacy practice he or she finds objectionable.

Although P3P is currently supported in new versions of the popular Microsoft Internet Explorer Web browser, its widespread adoption and success are by no means assured. A number of Internet analysts and research firms have noted over the past few years the dramatic number of Web users who cannot or do not bother to adjust their home page and cookie settings, a simpler task than evaluating and answering a set of privacy criteria.

There is also no assurance that the privacy policies and procedures currently tagged for disclosure in the P3P specification will meet the requirements of emerging online privacy legislation, although it is a safe bet that the W3C will push to shape the debate around the automated exchange P3P already enables. The P3P specification itself is also still considered a work in progress and subject to change as industry and regulatory concerns develop.

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