There is some good news. Online privacy practices and policies seem to be improving. A report released by The Progress & Freedom Foundation in March 2002 found that websites are collecting less information. Among the 100 most popular domains, the proportion collecting personal information fell from 96 percent to 84 percent, and the proportion using third-party cookies to track surfing behavior fell from 78 percent to 48 percent.
Privacy notices are also more prevalent, more prominent, and more complete and more sites offer choice, especially over whether information can be shared with third parties. The percentage of top 100 sites offering choice over third-party sharing jumped from 77 to 93, and the use of “opt in” as a method of choice more than doubled from 15 percent to 32 percent, according to the report. The report concludes, “The extent of online information collection has declined since May 20.”
Back in the early days of database marketing, my good friend Don Schultz, professor of marketing at Northwestern University, remarked on the intended purpose of customer database information:
For the database to have value for customers, it should simplify and improve their personal lives, not just complicate them with unwanted offers or ridiculous solicitations. Also, if the database was really working for the consumer—and not just the marketer—privacy would not be the issue it is.
Substitute “CMR” for “the database” in Schultz’s advice and it is as cogent today as it was eight years ago. This is not surprising since Schultz is one of the most forward-thinking guys I know. If the customer information were really working for the customer, as Schultz suggests, permission would not be a concern.
 “Online Survey Shows Progress on Privacy,” The DMA Interactive, March 28, 2002, pp. 1, 2.
Don E. Schultz, “Some Comments on the Absolute Value of the Database,” Journal of Direct Marketing, 1994.