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Retail Group Pushes for Privacy Guidelines

April 16, 1998|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

WASHINGTON — A trade group for the nation's retailers is urging its members to tell customers upfront what types of personal information they're collecting at the cash register and how they're using it. Privacy advocates say the voluntary guidelines don't go far enough.

The National Retail Federation, which represents companies from department stores to discount warehouses, also recommends that customers be given the option of not receiving promotional mailings and tells stores to prevent abuses by their own snooping employees.

Mallory Duncan, vice president and general counsel, said the group has been looking into the privacy issue for two years. In January, it adopted principles that retailers can use to set their own policies. Information on the new principles, the first attempt by the organization to deal formally with the privacy matter, began going out to member stores and associations shortly after the group's board meeting.

The trade group said it developed the policies because customers are increasingly worried about privacy; because of the possibility Congress would approve privacy rights laws; and because retailers, through frequent-buyer clubs, are collecting increasing amounts of information about their customers.

It announced the rules publicly only after independent counsel Kenneth Starr issued subpoenas for two Washington bookstores last month to learn what Monica Lewinsky had bought--information gleaned in part from her credit card purchases. A judge has put that request on hold, saying Starr must prove a compelling need for the information.

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