We see the first inklings of this trust machinery…

…in protocols such as Truste. Truste was founded in 1995 as a nonprofit consortium of web sites and privacy advocates to enhance privacy relationships in the online marketspace. They have developed an information standard also called Truste. The first stage is a system of simple badges posted on the front pages of web sites. These seals alert visitors–before they enter–of the site’s privacy policies. The badges declare that either:

We keep no records of anyone’s visit. Or,
We keep records but only use them ourselves. We know who you are so that when you return we can show you what’s new, or tailor content to your desires, or make purchase transactions easier and simplified. Or,
We keep records, which we use ourselves, but we also share knowledge with like-minded firms that you may also like.

Those three broad approaches encompass most transactions; but there are as many subvariations as there are sites. (To post the badges or seal, sites must submit to an audit by Truste, which guarantees to the public that a site does adhere to the policies they post.) But the seals are only labels. The real work happens behind the scenes by means of very sophisticated R-tech.

Here is a hypothetical scenario of a visit to a Truste-approved commerce site a couple of years hence. I visit the Gap clothing store online. They notify me that they are a level 2 site; they remember who I am, my clothes size, and what I bought or even inspected last time I visited–but they don’t sell that data. In exchange for information about myself, they offer me a 10% discount. Fine with me! Makes life easier. I visit the site of Raven Maps, the best topographical maps in the world. They let me know that my visit with them is on a level 3 basis–they trade my name and interests, but nothing else, with other travel-related sites, which they conveniently list. In exchange they will throw in one free map per purchase. Since the friends of Raven Map look very intriguing, I say yes. I visit CompUSA. They want to know everything about me, and they will sell everything about me, level 3. In exchange, they will lease me a multimedia computer with all the bells and whistles for free. Okay? Ummm, maybe. Then I visit ABC, the streaming video TV place. They declare that they keep no records whatsoever. Whatever shows I watch, only I know. They keep aggregate knowledge, which they use to lure advertisers, but not specifics. A lot of people are attracted to this level 1 total nonsurvelliance, despite the heavy dose of commercials, and keep coming back.



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