ONLINE PRIVACY: Group Unveils User Guidelines
In the wake of a proposal by President Clinton to bolster online privacy, the Health Internet Ethics group, a ring of health-related Web sites, Sunday issued the first industry-led ethical standards and privacy protections for users, the Washington Post reports. Endorsed by 20 leading online health companies -- including PlanetRx.com, Healtheon/WebMD, DrKoop.com and Medscape, Inc. -- along with Internet service provider America Online, Inc., the guidelines require companies to promise to use personal information about customers' health only "for the purposes for which a reasonable customer would expect [them] to use it or as agreed to by the consumer." The Web sites also must "plainly" mark advertising under the new rules. "It's a big step. It puts control of health care information back in consumer hands," Christine Varney, a former commissioner for the Federal Trade Commission and consultant to the ethics group, said. While privacy expert Janlori Goldman of the Health Privacy Project at Georgetown University agreed, she indicated that "the guidelines fail to spell out an enforcement mechanism or consumer recourse if privacy rights are violated." Members of the group admitted that establishing an enforcement unit is the "necessary next step." A draft of the group's proposal will be available at www.hiethics.org (Schwartz, 5/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.