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Effective enforcement of online privacy policies is intended to assure an organization's compliance with its privacy policies for the collection, use and disclosure of personally identifiable information online and provide for consumer complaint resolution. Whether administered by a third-party privacy seal program, licensing program or a membership association, the effective enforcement of self-regulation requires: 1) verification and monitoring, 2) complaint resolution and 3) education and outreach. The Online Privacy Alliance believes the best way to create public trust is for organizations to alert consumers and other individuals to the organization's practices and procedures through participation in a program that has an easy to recognize symbol or seal.

Third-Party Enforcement Programs

Validation by an independent trusted third party that organizations are engaged in meaningful self-regulation of online privacy, may be necessary to grow consumer confidence. Such validation should be easily recognized by consumers, for example through the use of a seal or other symbol. The symbol or seal can be used to connote both compliance with privacy policies and an easy method for consumers to contact the seal provider. Thus, the Online Privacy Alliance supports third-party enforcement programs that award an identifiable symbol to signify to consumers that the owner or operator of a Web site, online service or other online area has adopted a privacy policy that includes the elements articulated by the Online Privacy Alliance, has put in place procedures to ensure compliance with those policies, and offers consumer complaint resolution.

Privacy Seal Program

Such a privacy seal program (hereinafter "the seal program") should implement mechanisms necessary to maintain objectivity and build legitimacy with consumers. The seal program should utilize a governing structure that solicits and considers input from the business community, consumer/advocacy organizations and academics in formulating its policies. The seal program should strive to create a consistent and predictable framework in implementing its procedures. The seal program should be independent and should endeavor to make receipt of the seal affordable for and available to all online businesses.

A seal program should include the following characteristics:

  • Ubiquity: In order to minimize confusion and increase consumer confidence, efforts shall be taken to ensure ubiquitous adoption, and recognition of seals through branding efforts, including, for example, co-branding with corporations or associations.

  • Comprehensiveness: A seal program should be flexible enough to address issues related to both sensitive and non-sensitive information.

  • Accessibility: A seal should be easy for the user to locate, use and comprehend.

  • Affordability: The cost and structure of a seal should encourage broad use and should not be prohibitive to small businesses. The cost of a seal will vary based on a number of factors, including the extent and complexity of review, size of the business, the amount and type of individually identifiable information collected, used and distributed, and other criteria.

  • Integrity: A seal provider should be able to pursue all necessary avenues to maintain the integrity of the seal, including trademark enforcement actions.

  • Depth: A seal provider should have the ability to handle the number and breadth of consumer inquiries and complaints about the potential violation of online privacy policies and should have an established set of mechanisms to address those inquiries and complaints.

Verification and Monitoring

A seal program must require that its participants adopt a privacy policy that comports with the principles endorsed by the Online Privacy Alliance. The scope of this requirement only applies to the participating organization and does not apply to the Web pages of affiliates or other Web pages linked to or from the participating organization's Web page. While these baseline principles should be standardized, individual policies accepted by the seal provider should allow for sector-specific variations. The seal program must then require that an organization put in place either self-assessment or accept the seal program's compliance review prior to awarding the seal.

If a self-assessment system is chosen, it must be pursuant to a rigorous, uniform, clearly articulated and publicly disclosed seal program methodology under which an organization would be asked to verify that its published privacy policy is accurate, comprehensive, prominently displayed, completely implemented and accessible; and that consumers are informed of the consumer complaint resolution mechanisms through which complaints are handled. A statement verifying the self-assessment should be signed by a corporate officer or some other authorized representative of the company. The self-assessment should then be reviewed by the seal program to assure compliance with the methodology. Specific criteria for when a company should improve the implementation of its self-assessment system, adopt further measures, or circumstances when a third-party review is required, should be part of the seal program's methodology for acceptable self-assessment.

Periodic reviews should be required by the seal program to ensure that those displaying the seal continue to abide by their privacy policies and that those policies continue to be consistent with its principles. These periodic reviews may include, but are not limited to, auditing, random reviews, use of "decoys" or use of technology tools as appropriate to ensure that sites are adhering to the articulated privacy policies.

In cases where there is evidence that the company is not abiding by its privacy policies, the seal provider should establish clear criteria for placing that company on probation or beginning procedures for the seal's revocation. The seal provider should establish clearly defined criteria for when and how a company's seal may be revoked. A company should be given notice and the opportunity to request outside review before its seal is revoked. Seal revocation should be a matter of public record. The seal provider must clearly state the grounds for revocation and establish a post-revocation appeals process. In addition to the above criteria, the seal provider should also strive to ensure the integrity of the seal by monitoring for misuse or misappropriation.

Consumer Complaint Resolution

An effective third-party enforcement mechanism must provide its participants and consumers a structure to resolve complaints and consequences for failure to do so. Thus, a seal program must define the scope of complaints subject to the complaint resolution process, have a system in place to address complaints, the necessary staff to handle the volume of complaints and the organizational depth to resolve them. The seal program must provide a variety of easy mechanisms to allow consumers to lodge complaints or ask questions. Seal recipients must agree to the complaint resolution procedure.

Under the complaint resolution system, consumers must first be required to seek redress for their complaints from the company they believed to have aggrieved them, before being granted access to the seal program's complaint resolution mechanism. Where complaints cannot be adequately resolved by the company, and where the consumer and company have exhausted good faith efforts to reach agreement, the company should be required to submit to a complaint resolution mechanism.

Complaint resolution outcomes must not be contrary to any existing legal obligations of the participating company. Failure of a company to agree with the outcome of the seal program's complaint resolution should result in previously identified consequences to the company. Notwithstanding the complaint resolution process, the consumer, the company and the seal provider may pursue other available legal recourse.

Education and Outreach

A seal program must develop and implement policies to educate consumers and business about online privacy.

A seal program must develop and implement policies to encourage awareness of the program and online privacy issues with both consumers and businesses. Such techniques shall include: publicity for participating companies, public disclosure of material non-compliance or seal revocation, periodic publication of the results of the monitoring and review procedures, or referral of non-complying companies to the appropriate government agencies.

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