May 01, 2001
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio May 2001 Current Issue
May 2001 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:


BY Bob Walters

When you entrust meeting details to an online service, you might be selling secrets

In the past two years, when “noise,” “first-mover” and “branding” were the buzz words, many Internet firms moved quickly to acquire customers by providing free services. But how could so many dotcoms and application services providers (ASPs) afford to give anything away for free or next to nothing?

They hoped to generate revenue through advertising, partnerships and commissions on the sales generated at the site. Many also took the opportunity to sell the information they collected about their customers.

The question for meeting planners is, do you know whether your tech company can sell your attendees’ information? In some cases it’s not a matter of who owns this data, but who has rights to use it.

One association lost a number of members who were upset because they were receiving marketing e-mails from the ASP managing the organization’s data. When the association confronted the ASP, they were reminded that the contract they had signed said any names entered through the Web site were the joint property of the ASP and the association. The ASP contended it had every right to market to these people, including selling the names to other companies.

If you are currently using an ASP or are contemplating moving your registration or membership services, read the fine print in the contract. Make sure the ownership and ability to use the names is very clearly spelled out.

Protecting the privacy of your attendees’ data also should be a top concern on your own Web site.

Web pages and listings are, essentially, public documents and can be copied into any word processor, text editor and, in some cases, directly to a database table. Make it harder for information thieves by requiring some form of ID name or number and a password to access pages that display membership and customer lists. You might want to use random or changing numbers, like the registration ID for the specific meeting along with a unique number assigned to the individual. Then limit the number of listings displayed per page or possibly the number of records that can be accessed without signing in again. This way you can monitor people who sign in again and again, which might indicate an attempt to copy data.

If you are subject to this type of theft, in all likelihood your attendees or members will begin receiving unsolicited e-marketing. You might consider sending a message to members/customers informing them that the marketing campaign was not authorized by your organization.

When asking attendees or members for information at a site, you must provide a privacy statement and ask if they wish to receive e-mail from you. Also ask if you can share their data if your firm sells lists, even to other members or exhibitors. Several sites provide details on privacy issues, including the Information Technology Association of America (

Coming soon from Microsoft and other providers is P3P Platform for Privacy Preferences which will be integrated with your browser and will prevent Web sites from acquiring your information without permission. It remains to be seen how many of the major Internet companies will embrace the technology, which will be embedded in Internet Explorer 6, due out at the end of the year.

P3P will prevent you from seeing Web pages that do not conform to the privacy preferences you have set. In other words, if your Web site does not conform to P3P, users employing the technology won’t be able to access your information.

Bob Walters, based in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, is the founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak software.

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