BBB Offers Advice about Online Privacy

June 10, 2010

Online security and privacy concerns with social media sites such as Facebook have led users to question which websites they trust with their personal information.  Better Business Bureau serving Southeast Texas (BBB) provides consumers with questions they should ask before disclosing personally identifiable information on any website.

The privacy policies of financial institutions, insurance companies and healthcare providers are commonly provided to website users, however; consumers are not as likely to ask for the privacy policy of the sites they visit on a regular basis.  Even if a site has a privacy policy, many consumers find it difficult to navigate the terms and are not sure what to look for when reviewing a site’s privacy policy and practices.

“The Internet is a resource for sharing information and you are the best protector of your privacy by controlling what information you share,” said Michael Clayton, President and CEO of BBB in Southeast Texas.  “The first thing to consider before disclosing personal information online is whether or not you want that information public.  If not, then the best solution is to keep that information offline.  After determining what content you will share, research how a site will use your personal information now, and if they will let you know when changes are made in the future.”

BBB suggests consumers get answers to the following questions before providing their information to any online shopping, social networking or location-based website to keep their personal information safe:

  • What information is collected?  Will the site collect your demographic information if you provide it?  Will it track your habits and what pages you visit?
  • How is the information collected?  Will the website collect information automatically through tracking technology such as cookies, or only if you provide the information?  Websites use cookies to place small text files on your computer that may be used to track your purchases, the pages you visit, or the ads you click on.  This information can be sold to marketers.
  • How is the information used?  Will it be shared with a third-party advertiser?  Will other users have access to this information if they have an account with the same social media site?  Will your spending habits with an online shopping site be shared with advertisers?
  • Who will have access to the information?  Does the site share the consumer’s information with other sites online, other companies, or with affiliates within the same corporate family?
  • What security measures are used to protect your personal information?  Security measures should be used to keep the user’s personal information, including login and password, safe.
  • Who is accountable for the privacy practices?  Are you comfortable with the website’s privacy policy?  Does the website privacy policy give you someone to contact with questions or concerns?

If a company has a privacy policy, it may not mean the consumer’s personal information is protected.  It is important for consumers to keep in mind that there are no universal guidelines for the content of privacy policies.  Consumers are their own best defense in protecting their information online and the best way to do so is recognizing what information will be shared.

For more information on staying safe online, visit