Less Than One-Third of Top Consumer Web Sites Are 'Trustworthy,' Online Trust Alliance Finds

The Online Trust Alliance, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve online security, has revealed the findings of its 2014 Online Trust Audit—an evaluation of the top 800 consumer Web sites. Of the sites evaluated, 30.2 percent were named to the Honor Roll, including American Greetings, Netflix, the Christian Book Distributors, Sony Electronics, and Ancestry.com, which took the top five spots.

The percentage of Honor Roll inductees represents a slight drop from last year's, though the dip could be explained by the addition of new Web site categories, according to Craig Spiezle, executive director and president of the OTA. "This year we added media and news sites into the mix, but if you do a comparison after excluding those sites, we're right back at 32.1 percent. Stricter security standards played a part as well, though the poor performance of the news and media Web sites was the main factor," he says. According to Spiezle, only 4 percent of sites in that category were deemed trustworthy enough to make the cut.

To determine which companies would make it it onto the Honor Roll, the OTA judged each company on three criteria—its level of brand protection, the transparency and clarity of its privacy policy, and how consumer data that it collects is being protected.

Brand protection, Spiezle explains, refers to the extent to which companies ensure that consumers aren't receiving any forged communications and malware, including mail and email. The privacy policy, Spiezle adds, also has to protect consumers by being informative, clear, and in-depth. "Brands used to hide behind their privacy policies, purposely making them vague, but many have gotten much better about keeping people well-informed about what is kept private and what isn't," he explains.

Lastly, companies that excel at security and trustworthiness are committed to sharing not only which consumer information is kept private, but also how it is kept private. "Some organizations may say, 'We only share your data with our trusted partners,' but don't name those partners. That could be a problem, because that leaves the consumer in the dark when it comes to knowing how that partner may be using his or her data," Spiezle says.

Though top individual performers were spread across several areas including e-commerce, banking, and government sites, social sites were the top-performing category as a whole, with Twitter leading the pack for the second year in a row.

"Twitter is honored to again receive the top overall award for the highest score on the OTA Honor Roll. It has become increasingly clear over the past year that companies need to be even more vigilant in applying security and encryption technologies like always-on-SSL, forward secrecy, and DMARC in order to protect their users, and we're glad to partner with organizations like the OTA to raise the security and privacy bar," Bob Lord, director of information security at Twitter, said in a statement.

"Companies that made it on to our Honor Roll this year really hit home runs, scoring at least 80 percent in each of the major categories," Spiezle adds. "What makes them even better examples is that many of them, such as Twitter, have expressed an interest in becoming even more trustworthy. They're setting the bar for other companies that should be doing better."

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