In Germany, Hunze says, a federal privacy official (Datenschutzbeauftrager der Bundesregierung) is charged with enforcing privacy laws and reports once a year to the government and the people about the situation.
In Denmark, it would be unthinkable for a bank to give or sell consumer lists to other companies, says Karsten Jorgensen, manager of IT strategy for Jyske Bank, a full-service financial institution representing about $14 billion in assets. Besides the fact that it's illegal, says Jorgensen, "being trusted by customers is essential, and disclosure of any privacy leakage would be a considerable competitive disadvantage."
Europe's strict adherence to privacy guidelines is having some impact in the United States. "When you surf the Web, you travel to lots of countries," Hunze points out, noting that most Europeans do not use e-commerce because they fear for the security of their data outside their own national borders.
As American companies push for more global reach, they may be forced to voluntarily adopt stricter guidelines. At the very least, says Polonetsky, they should have one contact in the company who thoroughly understands the issues.
In addition, many American consumers are getting fed up with what they consider privacy violations. A recent survey by the Internet Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that examines issues affecting the global development and use of the Internet, found that Americans are becoming more concerned with protecting their privacy. More than three-quarters of New Yorkers surveyed want federal laws to restrict what kind of personal information can be collected online about them. Dearborn, Mich., residents agreed, with 73% in favor of federal laws that would restrict the types of personal information collected online.
American lawmakers seem to be listening. Numerous privacy bills are floating around Congress, including the Consumer Internet Privacy Enhancement Act, sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.), Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). The bill mandates that Web sites spell out their privacy policies and let consumers opt out of having personal information sold to third parties. It also calls for a study of the issue for 12 to 18 months before setting firm standards.
Some firms are going beyond that timetable, however, working with industry trade groups and the government to create privacy guidelines. The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), which recently formed the Chief Privacy Officer (CPO) Council, of which Polonetsky is co-chair, has forged an alliance with the Federal Trade Commission to promote responsible advertising on the Web.
Other companies have formed alliances to promote privacy principles of disclosure, c