What Is the Online Privacy Alliance?

What Is the Online Privacy Alliance?
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What was the Online Privacy Alliance?

The Online Privacy Alliance (a.k.a OPA) was a cross-industry group of more than 30 companies with the common goal of providing a standardized definition and set of rules for Internet privacy. After it’s formation in 1998 it was said to have a membership of over 80 companies, including some huge names in e-commerce, but as of today it’s membership has dwindled to less than 30 companies. The official website for the Online Privacy Alliance has had little to no activity in over 10 years which leads me to believe that not only did the Online Privacy Alliance not accomplish it’s goals but has, more or less, become a non-factor in Internet privacy.

(Image: Stock.Xchng)

What Companies were Part of the OPA?

Some of the companies that were rumored to be part of the Online Privacy Alliance during it’s active years were:

  • Apple
  • AT&T
  • Boeing
  • Dell
  • DoubleClick
  • eBay
  • Microsoft
  • Time Warner
  • Verizon

With a guest list that reads like the above, you have to wonder why the Online Privacy Alliance does not have a more active voice on Internet privacy today. Do these large companies still consider themselves members or have they moved on to other organizations promoting Internet privacy with a focus on e-commerce privacy? With the amount of activity, or lack of to be more accurate, the OPA has had over the past 10 years, I would have to say that currently the membership list would read… zero.

What Were the Goals of the OPA?

The Online Privacy Alliance had a very specific set of goals when it was first formed:

“The Online Privacy Alliance lead and supported self-regulatory initiatives that created an environment of trust and that fosters the protection of individuals’ privacy online and in electronic commerce.”

The Alliance:

  • Identified and advanced effective online privacy policies across the private sector.
  • Supported and fostered the development and use of self-regulatory enforcement mechanisms and activities, as well as user empowerment technology tools, designed to protect individuals’ privacy.
  • Supported compliance with strong enforcement of applicable laws and regulations.
  • Supported and fostered the development and use of practices and policies that protect the privacy of children.
  • Promoted broad awareness of and participation in Alliance initiatives by businesses, non-profits, policy makers and consumers.
  • Sought input and supported for Alliance initiatives from consumer, business, academic, advocacy and other organizations that share its commitment to privacy protection.

You may be saying to yourself, as I did, that these are some lofty goals well worth the time and effort of a group like the Online Privacy Alliance so why has the alliance faded into obscurity? While I cannot answer that question, I can tell you that many groups have taken up the reins when it comes to Internet privacy and e-commerce privacy. The OPA seems to have paved the way for other similar groups built upon a much stronger foundation, with a better and clearer set of rules and with a much more strict membership policy.

What Impact Did the Online Privacy Alliance Have?

The only real effect the Online Privacy Alliance seemed to have is laying a foundation for future Internet privacy groups. This and other groups brought to the forefront the need for specific guidelines and rules when it came to e-commerce on the Internet. The group showed that it was possible to get some of the largest e-commerce businesses in the world to sit down and discuss, if not agree upon, a set of privacy rules that everyone could live with.