I bet you or someone you know has been a victim of online identity theft. When it happened, you probably vowed to never use that particular site again. Or maybe you worry that your cookies are being tracked for unethical purposes. As people spend an increasing amount of time consuming content, sharing info and buying products online, what’s being done to improve the protection of our data and privacy?
Who better to ask than Fran Maier, the CEO of TRUSTe, and a recognized authority on privacy best practices (she regularly appears before the Federal Trade Commission and the US Department of Commerce to addresses the issues of online privacy, security and trust). TRUSTe guides thousands of sites towards best Web privacy practices, backed by its “trustmark” that indicates certification, and also helps consumers surf and submit information with confidence. So when you click on the TRUSTe certified logo on a website – take Drugstore.com, for example – it takes you to the company’s privacy statement page where you have all your questions answered.
Maier: I think the problem is that there are badly written privacy statements and also lazy consumers out there. When companies put the TRUSTe sign on their site, consumers can count on their information not being shared with a third party. TRUSTe means protection. So to bring more clarity to the public, we’re doing several things: we’re working to make the privacy statement more readable so that consumers can access the information that they’re most interested in. And we’re helping small businesses who generally cut and paste a privacy statement from somewhere else.
Watson: Is there any proof you have that displaying a privacy conduct seal of approval increases a company’s sales or enhances its brand reputation?
Maier: Yes we do. We have a number of case studies that showcase the positive results. For example, after CheapFlights displayed the TRUSTe badge the company generated more registrations and received more accurate customer data. You can witness the public’s interest in the online privacy topic by seeing that on a site’s validation page consumers are voting up (like endorsing) at high numbers. Privacy right now is more about control over your information, not just how to protect your information.
Watson: Consumers are becoming increasingly more aware that their Web browsing behavior is tracked for marketing purposes and many are trying to prevent it. What guidance is TRUSTe providing to publishers to ensure that behavioral advertising doesn’t conflict with their relationship with users?
Maier: TRUSTe and TNS surveyed consumer attitudes about behavioral targeting and learned that they’re concerned but at the same time they value relevant advertising. They count on publishers to figure out behavioral targeting. For more details, get the white paper here. We formed an advisory committee and have been working to meet the FTC guidelines on behavioral targeting. We’ll have a TRUSTe pilot program this fall that allows consumers to access choices if they want to be tracked outside of the general privacy statement.
Watson: Financial and budgeting sites like Mint.com, SmartyPig.com, and JustThrive.com are on the rise. Does the TRUSTe seal mean that criminal online attacks on consumer’s financial data are 100% guaranteed to be prevented?
Maier: As part of our ongoing service, we try to maintain that they each have a comprehensive policy. We have a program that adjusts our certification based on the risk of the business model, so with financial companies we do ask more questions.
Watson: I imagine that entrepreneurs reading this wonder how your badge was so quickly adopted. Given that it’s relatively easy to sign up new clients once your portfolio is long and respectable, what was TRUSTe’s strategy to sign up initial launch partners/clients?
Maier: We first built credibility. We had to be transparent about what privacy measures we were checking and why it makes a difference. With the small and medium business program, which is new, we’re aiming for distribution. We recognize we can’t expect to just pull people in; we have to go out to them and service them.