TRUSTe Targets Wireless

Privacy group TRUSTe is ramping up efforts to extend its seal program into the wireless space, signing AT&T Wireless as its first partner in the field and increasing efforts to encourage the involvement of other parties.

AT&T Wireless, which split off from AT&T Corp. last spring, received certification for its Web site’s and Internet business’s privacy policies. Ultimately, those guarantees could be expanded to AT&T Wireless’s actual mobile services.

However, before that takes place, TRUSTe has to actually develop a wireless version of its seal, which specifies and verifies that a marketer or Web site discloses the collection and use of consumers information, and allows for opting-out.

In conjunction with the news — and independent of the verification process — AT&T Wireless also agreed to become a corporate sponsor of TRUSTe, giving it closer ties to the privacy advocacy non-profit, which is looking to expand its efforts into the mobile sector with the aid of major wireless players.

“The wireless space is very important to us,” said TRUSTe communications director Dave Steer. “We’ve long known the separation of online and offline doesn’t really exist when it comes to privacy, and the most-known area that we really need to get to, at least for consumers, is the wireless arena. A lot of data will be transferred this way and a lot of people are concerned about privacy.”

The effort comes amid growing concern over mobile Internet services — and the possibility for abuse by marketers.

“We know that as we were going to be going forward into next generation of technology where we would be using wireless mobile tech for data transfer,” said AT&T Wireless chief privacy officer Wally Hyer. “We wanted to push the envelope a little and take to next level, by taking consumer trust and confidence [in phone service] … into the mobility data world.”

Added TRUSTe executive director Fran Maier, “People are using wireless devices more and more. There’s really a wireless revolution going on, wireless has some unique issues with regard to privacy — like location.”

TRUSTe first hatched the plan several months earlier, with the group’s announcement that it hoped to create a wireless privacy symbol — as a way to “take a long privacy policy and make it short,” Steer said. “It’s clear that multi-page privacy statements that are used on Web sites don’t really work on cell phones.”

That effort culminated in this week’s partnership with AT&T Wireless, which will spearhead a TRUSTe-affiliated coalition of other carriers and mobile phone and wireless device manufacturers in hammering out some standards for a seal program for wireless. In March, the group plans its first advisory committee meeting.

“Basically we are just kicking this off now,” Maier said. “AT&T Wireless is clearly a critical part of this, though we’re also reaching out to manufacturers, other carriers, PDA people, GSM companies … and [federal] regulators.”

Also involved in the process will be related industry groups like the Mobile Marketing Association and the Personal Communications Industry Association.

“So far we’re getting a very strong response,” Maier said. “I do think that what we’re facing is a very fast moving environment in uncertain economy. So sometimes things take a little bit longer … [but] everyone has been extremely interested, and TRUSTe has a strong track record in this area, so we’re a logical partner for this kind of effort.”

AT&T Wireless, for its part, said aligning with TRUSTe on the issue made strong business sense.

“It’s not something that was a compliance kind of initiative,” Hyer said. “Rather, it’s a strategic business initiative … tied into the strategic notion that it’s important for us to meet and or exceed our customers’ expectations, to give a level of confidence that is quality driven.”

“We want it so that consumers that use our products and services, when their location based services start to roll out in the future… they have a similar kind of seal [as on the Internet] so they have a level of confidence,” Hyer added. “We want to get a core group of mobile, user-location-based industry participants, who want to work together to set a standard — to put some paint on a blank canvas for the benefit of wireless mobile users.”

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