The Web Privacy Manifesto

    by Mark Glaser
    November 26, 2007

    i-3d0c10ca335bc32fbc4b188702d37114-Facebook Beacon.JPG
    How much do online marketers and websites know about us? Do they save records on what we’ve bought, sites we’ve visited, people we’ve contacted? It’s a subject that few of us bother with until we find out our private information has been stolen or inadvertently been made public.

    And privacy concerns have been front and center lately as MySpace and Facebook have announced new ad targeting plans that will serve us more relevant ads based on our social networking profiles. If we like a certain type of music, we can expect to see ads for similar musical acts. If we live in a certain place, are of a certain age, we might be targeted by a brand trying to reach us.

    And Facebook has even drawn the wrath of MoveOn with its Beacon feature that shows our friends what products and services we have bought on sites outside of Facebook. Just as there were howls of protest about Facebook’s news feeds — that were later accepted by users — there are now concerns that Beacon will upset people who don’t see the opt-out options and have their porn DVD purchases broadcast to friends and business associates.


    I have already talked about some very basic web privacy issues while on the Newshour program on Nov. 6. But since that time, more concerns have surfaced and the debate has intensified over web privacy and what we know about what they know about us. Marketers and websites want to make money, consumer groups want to protect our privacy, and federal regulators are stuck in the middle. So I thought the time was right to draw up some basic rights we should have as online denizens.

    The Web Privacy Manifesto

    We, the people, who live our lives online would like for the marketers, commerce companies and commercial websites to respect our need for control over our personal information. We understand your need to make money and find customers for your products and services. We also realize that some of our favorite websites depend on advertising to stay in business and provide a free-of-charge site for our enjoyment.

    However, the current system of tracking our behavior online and asking us to trust you to keep that information anonymous and private has gone on too long. We seek to have explanations in plain English describing what your privacy policies are, how long you retain our data, and how we can opt out. We don’t want hard-to-find, convoluted solutions that take hours to decipher. Please work with us instead of against us, and find out what we think about your marketing systems before you put them into place.


    Again, we are not opposed to relevant marketing and advertising messages, as long as we are certain that our personal information is being protected as fiercely as you protect your businesses.

    If you want to serve us targeted advertising, we ask that you:

    > Never turn over identifiable information about us to advertisers or marketers, and that this information is used only in the aggregate.

    > Explain this process clearly when we register for the site that serves up such advertisements. If we have already registered, then please drop us a note about the way you serve advertising and allow us to register our preferences.

    > Allow us to easily opt out of targeted advertising.

    > Allow us to go in and optionally describe the products and services that really do interest us, basically letting us fine-tune the way you target ads to us.

    If you want to include a news feed of our activities, we ask that you:

    > First explain in detail how this system would work to every user.

    > Give us multiple ways to opt out or opt in before the system goes live. We should be able to easily opt out of the entire news feed, or opt out for particular sites or purchases.

    > Allow us to eliminate some “friends” from this news feed, so that certain business associates might not see purchases we deem to be inappropriate.

    If you want to use our endorsement to sell your product to our friends, we ask that you:

    > Give us a chance to opt out from some or all of these features before they launch. Explain how the system works ahead of time.

    > Share the wealth. Figure out a way to give us some type of commission — whether a discount coupon or cash back — for the recommendations we make that are taken up by friends.

    > Give us ways to promote products we like. If we really do want to recommend a book, a movie or a new gadget, we should be able to do that in an organic way to people in our social network without the heavy marketing angle.

    > Allow us to give negative feedback on products or services that works as easily as giving endorsements.

    > Provide an open forum for people to share their positive and negative experiences with the product or service.

    As online denizens, we will flock to the websites and services that work with us in a transparent way, that explain the way they will market to us in advance, that will let us opt out easily from any marketing system. And we will run, not walk, from services that don’t respect us as human beings who value our privacy in an increasingly public world.

    What do you think? Would you sign on to such a manifesto? Why or why not? And if you would like to add your own passages to the manifesto, please do so in the comments and I’ll update this post with the best ones (with credit to you).

    Tagged: advertising privacy security social networking
    • Nicole Cornwell

      I read your story today and thought that you might be interested in what matchmine is doing in the area, as the company has developed their own privacy manifesto, and aims to learn about what users like without asking for personally identifiable information. The company can then pass along preference information to advertisers to help them deliver more targeted ads without giving away personal information. Its creating a win-win for everyone.

      Please let me know if youre interested in meeting with matchmines CEO, Mike Troiano, and Id be happy to set something up.

      – for matchmine

    • Mark

      I have to say that I think something is missing here. Or at least it isn’t specific enough.

      I blogged my thoughts here:


      There’s several concerns about Beacon. First of all, it changes the whole paradigm of the relationship that we as customers have with the entities that we buy from. Whether we buy in an actual physical store or order online, we establish a relationship with the retailer…and no one else save perhaps the makers of the product. Yes, our data may be sold but that information is not broadcast.

      With Beacon, the retailer and Facebook have decided, without our input, that Facebook is now part of that relationship. Now there three members, no longer two. Yes, we can (if the window pops us or if we manage to see it or catch it in time) put a stop to having this info published, but the decision has already been made that Facebook is an entity into the relationship.

      The whole dynamics have changed. We no longer have a one on one relationship. We now have to answer to two. And with Facebook’s Beacon being opt-out, the burden is on us to put a stop to it.

      I made the following analogy in the above blog post. One wouldn’t want to got into a local store and buy something and then have that store send a press release to the local newspaper so the newspaper can now publish this. And if we knew about this beforehand we could contact the editor and have it squashed.

      It’s not just porn type stuff. That’s a legitimate purchase but a bit ‘sleazy’. What about the 31 year old woman who buys a book on Amazon regarding sexually transmitted diseases? She may have one and may miss the message re Beacon. Or a closeted gay man who buys a book on coming out of the closet? People shouldn’t have have the burden of taking an extra step to ensure their personal privacy.

      It should be an opt-in system. Period.

    • “Allow us to give negative feedback on products or services that works as easily as giving endorsements.”

      Yes. An endorsements-only system is not consumer empowerment. That attempt at a one-way street actually detracts from the credibility consumer reviews or endorsements. This one element will reward good businesses and, as a public service warn us against the scammy, theoretically evolving the market — more customers for the worthy, fewer for the dregs. Oh, there are some car mechanics I’ve met lately who need some red-flags.

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