This week, instead of handing out our Big Brother Award to the company most recently caught violating our privacy, we're going to bestow the Cringing Toady Award on privacy-watchdog organization TRUSTe (www.truste.org). The organization, which purports to monitor member companies' privacy practices, declined on Nov. 8 to investigate Real Networks. Real Networks is the proud recipient of last week's Big Brother Award, when it was caught collecting information on what kind of music users of its program RealJukebox were listening to.
TRUSTe claimed rather weakly that since its mandate is to oversee Web sites' privacy practices and RealJukebox was a software program, the privacy violation fell outside its jurisdiction ("Today, my jurisdiction ends here"). This is more or less the same excuse the organization gave when it refused to investigate similar data-collection allegations against Microsoft back in March.
The group's seeming lack of enthusiasm for administering noogies to its naughtier members has led many online-news sources to question whether this watchdog has any teeth—a view supported by the fact that although TRUSTe has investigated hundreds of potential privacy violations, according to Wired News, it has never revoked a site's right to display its privacy seal.
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Perhaps coincidentally, both Microsoft and Real Networks are listed as corporate sponsors on TRUSTe's Web site.