Considering all the opt-ions

The opt-in model may become the standard of the future for the collection of personal infromation online, led by wireless data business models dependent on knowing the exact location of a user at a given time.

Heightened concerns over the privacy dangers inherent in wireless data are leading to consensus that an "opt-in" privacy model is the best one to adopt in that industry - a move that could lead to the spread of the opt-in model to the rest of the online world.

Privacy advocates favor the opt-in approach, under which consumers must give their consent to the collection of personal information. But that approach hasn't held sway in the online world - most marketers favor an opt-out scheme in which consumers must specifically refuse permission. Wireless may change that. Wireless device makers, data service providers and even some advertisers have begun to coalesce around an opt-in model for data tied to wireless devices such as Wireless Application Protocol-enabled phones.

The nature of wireless data business models, dependent on knowing the exact location of a user at a given time, has created industry concern about a consumer privacy backlash. Many marketers fear that consumers will quickly abandon wireless data services if they feel their privacy is compromised - for example, if their phone rings with an unsolicited offer to visit a retailer they are passing at the time.

The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association produced privacy guidelines in late November that favor giving consumers a "meaningful opportunity to consent" to the gathering of private information about them. And members of the nascent Wireless Location Industry Association "are likely to be quite ready to go with an opt-in" model, said executive director John W. Jimison.

"Opt-in, as soon as possible, is important for consumers," said David Moore, chief executive of 24/7 Media, an interactive advertising and media consulting company.

In the rest of the online world, business interests such as the powerful Direct Marketers Association continue to object to mandated adoption.

But many privacy advocates believe the pressure of a wireless opt-in model may force the rest of the industry to consider opt-in as a privacy standard, advocates believe. "In some ways, we hope this demystifies, desensitizes some of the terminology," said Alan Davidson, staff counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

The pressure is likely to be magnified in the wake of e-commerce failures.