Last month, the World Wide Web Consortium released Platform For Privacy Preferences 1.0 as a recommendation. The release of P3P as a W3C standard will be a nice step toward improving the way that privacy information is provided by Web sites, but it probably wont be as effective as many would like.
Basically, P3P defines a standard method in which Web sites and businesses can define their privacy policies and provide them in a machine-readable format that user clients, such as Web browsers, can read.
P3P uses standard XML formats and is already supported in popular browsers such as Microsofts Internet Explorer 6.0.
P3P provides some good capabilities. For example, users can set what privacy policies they find acceptable; then, when they surf to a site, their browser will scan the sites P3P settings and notify them if the site meets their requirements.
However, there is one key weakness in P3P. Its up to sites to define their own privacy policies. And users might just disagree with some sites about the way they define how they are meeting some privacy options. In addition, many sites will probably choose to not use P3P. This is what happened to the similar PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection) standard, which attempted to help users identify porn and other sites that may be unacceptable to some users. Since PICS relied on self-rating, it wasnt as effective as it could have been.
More info on P3P is available at www.w3.org.