SAN JOSE, Calif., April 11 /PRNewswire/ -- TRUSTe, the global privacy seal program, today released draft privacy practice guidelines for companies undergoing mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies. Beginning immediately, TRUSTe is seeking public comment for its guidelines, which can be viewed on its Web site at www.truste.org. These guidelines come at an important time as many companies seek guidance on appropriate uses of personal information when faced with business transitions. The guidelines, rooted in the TRUSTe license agreement contract, outline acceptable uses of information that protect privacy by giving consumers full control over their personal information. Specifically, the guidelines point to the following: -- Mandated Third Party Oversight -- The guidelines state that personal information transfer requires third party oversight as an important check against the singularly focused demands imposed by creditors. -- Consumer Notice and Choice -- Recommending Opt-In as a method to retain full value of a customer database and extend trust to new users, TRUSTe's guidelines illustrate methods and scenarios for giving consumers notice and choice of a change in privacy practices. -- Privacy Policies Must be Honored -- The same privacy promises a company makes while in business, must be honored when going out of business. To that end, both parties -- the buyer and the seller -- have an obligation to the consumer. "Our goal with these guidelines is to strike a reasonable balance between consumer privacy rights and expectations and the business need to realize the full value of corporate assets," said Bob Lewin, President and CEO of TRUSTe. "In an economy valued by information, customer data is like gold and, as such, deserves enhanced protection." Today's news comes in the wake of increased attention to the privacy problems faced during the bankruptcy process. During the Summer of 2000, TRUSTe-licensee Toysmart.com announced intentions to sell its customer database as part of its bankruptcy filing. TRUSTe raised immediate objection to this intended move by alerting the Web community. As a result, more than 40 state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission followed suit to block the sale of Toysmart.com's customer database. Never sharing personally identifiable information with a third party, Toysmart.com ultimately settled with a buyer who agreed to destroy the database. Subsequently, many companies have asked for guidance on the bankruptcy issue and, in Congress, privacy language has emerged in the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2001. Added Lewin, "From the writing of the business plan through each of a company's evolutionary steps, privacy must be top-of-mind throughout a company's lifespan. Clearly, privacy is not just an issue for advocates and policy makers; rather, it has become a fundamental concern among creditors and shareholders." TRUSTe's guidelines will be posted on TRUSTe's Web site for a 60-day public comment period, after which TRUSTe will distribute a final version to the general public and its privacy seal program licensees. TRUSTe is interested in hearing comments from consumers, businesses, policy makers, advocates and the financial community. About TRUSTe TRUSTe, the leading privacy seal program, is an independent organization dedicated to building consumer trust and confidence in the Internet. The TRUSTe coalition of participating companies includes America Online, Excite@Home, Intel, Intuit, Japan Engineers Federation and Microsoft. Founded in 1997, TRUSTe is the premier privacy seal program worldwide. The TRUSTe seal is currently displayed on all of the Internet's portal sites and has been rated by Cheskin Research as the most trust-invoking seal online. Since the summer of 1999, Nielsen//NetRatings has continuously rated TRUSTe as the most visible symbol on the Internet. Today, the TRUSTe maintains the largest privacy seal program with nearly 2,000 Web sites certified throughout the world. TRUSTe is based in San Jose, CA, with an office in Washington, DC. To learn more about protecting your privacy online, visit the TRUSTe Web site at www.truste.org.