Saturday, January 17, 2004

Release: Your online privacy is at risk, Michigan State Researchers show

Michigan State University recently put out a release about a research study undertaken at their institute. According to the release, entitled "Warning: Your online privacy is at risk, MSU research shows", suggests that website privacy policies may not be worth the electrons they are written on. This isn't a huge surprise. The surprising assertion is that certification by TRUSTe and BBBOnline aren't what they're cracked up to be.

"Consumers need explicit warnings about the threats of identity theft, spam and credit card fraud to deter them from innocently surrendering personal information online. This is the conclusion of a new study of online privacy practices conducted by Nora Rifon and Robert LaRose of Michigan State University.

Consumers who rely on privacy seals such as TRUSTe or BBBOnline to protect their privacy may be lulled into a false sense of security, the researchers said. An analysis of Web sites carrying the seals found that they ask for more personal information and protect it less than sites that have no seals. "

Unfortunately, the release does not link to the study itself, so the assertions are hard to validate.

To me, this highlights one of the benefits of the Canadian Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act over these voluntary programs. PIPEDA requires that all information collection be reasonable and it further prohibits making it mandatory to provide any personal information that is not necessary for the purposes identified by the organization. Not perfect, but better.

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