Should You Trust TrustE?

Does a privacy seal on a web site mean you don't have to read the privacy statement? Hardly.

Like most users, youre alarmed at the myriad ways that companies exploit the Internet to collect, buy, and sell your personal information. You know you should read all those Web site privacy statements carefully, but really, who has the time? Instead, you give personal information only to reputable companies, and you look for some kind of privacy seal on each Web site. So youre protected, right? Well, not exactly.

An increasing number of Web sites proudly display privacy seals that say "Reviewed by TrustE site privacy statement" or "Privacy, BBBOnLine," (with a big icon of a lock). TrustE is a nonprofit organization started by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the CommerceNet Consortium and sponsored by several major companies including AT&T Wireless, Intuit, and Microsoft. BBBOnline is a subsidiary of the long-standing Council of Better Business Bureaus, which is supported by the dues of hundreds of companies nationwide. The TrustE privacy seal is now displayed on more than 1,300 Web sites, while BBBOnline privacy seals can be found on over 700 sites.

What consumer-friendly practices must these companies follow to get a privacy seal? You may be surprised to know that it boils down to just three: Companies must tell you what their practices are, abide by them, and give you the option to opt out of sharing your personal data with other organizations.