You can't blame Microsoft for wanting to avoid another run-in with the feds -- and that seems to be the primary impetus for its big privacy announcement on Wednesday. The Internet's biggest advertiser made a splash with the news that it won't buy ads on any site that doesn't post "comprehensive privacy statements."
Congress -- fired up by constituents' outrage over spam and fear that their online behavior is being tracked -- has made plenty of noise about regulating privacy on the Net, with some politicians suggesting that the industry needs to do what's right by consumers or face regulation. As Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, put it in April: "The last thing you want is for us to come in with a heavy hand ... and that's where it's headed." Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission is currently preparing its Internet privacy recommendations for Congress.
This is the climate in which Microsoft has announced the strategy of pulling its big bucks -- the company spent more than $34 million on Net advertising in 1998 -- from any site that dares mess with consumers' right to privacy. The goal is "to make the Web a safer place for customers," explains Microsoft spokeswoman Melissa Covelli.
How closely will Microsoft monitor the privacy policies and their enforcement?
Still, the "wizard" that could keep unscrupulous Web sites from abusing visitors' personal information has yet to be created.