The Law of Electronic Commerce

by : Benjamin Wright



Internet Explorer 6 Agitates Web Administrators
With Legal Kink

Antidote to P3P Privacy Filter Available Free at disavowp3p.com
DALLAS, TX, September 2001 . . . Privacy filters in Microsoft's new Internet Explorer 6 pose for web administrators an unexpected legal predicament. A new remedy is now available at no charge.

The filters force administrators to post new privacy policies for their web sites, coded in a technical language called P3P. The filters punish administrators who fail to publish properly coded P3P privacy policies by blocking or impeding their cookies. Cookies are an important web feature.

The P3P coding language raises, for any corporation, government agency or other institution that uses it, a lawsuit danger. A privacy policy written in it exposes the organization to liability, with little or no escape.

A privacy policy, even one written in computer codes, can be legally enforceable like a contract. In lawsuits filed in 1999, plaintiffs forced US Bancorp to pay $7.5 million for misstatements in a privacy policy posted on its web site.

Web administrators face a dilemma. They want to satisfy IE 6's technical requirement for P3P codes, but they also want to sidestep liability. To address this dilemma, e-commerce pioneer Benjamin Wright has invented a remedy and published it at http://www.disavowp3p.com. Anyone can pick it up and use it at no charge.

The remedy is an additional P3P code, "DSA". Any web administrator using DSA in her P3P privacy policy indicates she disavows legal liability for her P3P policy and renders it meaningless.

Using the DSA code, organizations can publish fictitious P3P codes to enable cookies, while nullifying their legal affect.
"The P3P language is simply inadequate for writing legal privacy policies, and corporations are foolish to use it for that purpose," said Mr. Wright. "The DSA code allows them to exploit the P3P coding for the technical purpose of deploying cookies, while disclaiming that the codes have any substantive or legal effect."

To provide background and detail, Mr. Wright has written a monograph titled "Disavowing P3P Liability" and made it available for sale at http://www.disavowp3p.com. On request, he will e-mail it free to any journalist.

"P3P is a very complex subject that will catch corporations by surprise," said Doug Peckover, CEO of Demand Engine, Inc., a strategic privacy consulting firm. "Few are even aware of P3P's full implications. They need to read the analysis of a world-class e-commerce lawyer like Ben Wright."

P3P is the Platform for Privacy Preferences, developed under the sponsorship of a non-profit organization named the World Wide Web Consortium (also called W3C) http://www.w3.org/p3pBusiness Management Articles, a coalition of industry and non-profit groups.