Privacy Think Tank Prepares For Launch

The Future of Privacy Forum has backing from AT&T, drawing the ire of some large computer companies.

A new online privacy think tank is launching Today (Nov. 19), the Future of Privacy Forum, but some big computer companies question its motives.

The forum is topped by Christopher Wolf of the privacy and security practice at Proskauer Rose, and Jules Polonetsky, former chief privacy officer at AOL, with initial backing from AT&T.

The forum kicks off with a panel session at the National Press Club in Washington.

Ed Black of the Computer & Communications Industry Association was skeptical of that AT&T backing, labeling it a group "funded by large corporations with sketchy records on privacy...Although we respect Jules and wish him the best, we have some concerns about the need for and direction of this new group,” said Ed Black, President & CEO of CCIA. “We will be interested to see whether this becomes a broad-based coalition that represents the diversity of the Internet industry and consumers and then what the agenda will really be.

"To have credibility, such a group must focus on protecting Internet users’ privacy from the overreaching government as well as e-commerce,” said Black. CCIA members include Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo.

The online privacy issue has heated up with the ability of networks and third parties to collect Web surfing data to help target their ads, brought to a head on Capitol Hill by the efforts of a company called NebuAd to team with phone and cable operators to test such ad-tracking.

An aide to House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA), who held hearings on NebuAd, has said the issue of targeted marketing and online privacy will remain on the front burner in the next Congress.

President-elect Barack Obama has also pledged to strengthen privacy protections.