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The Green Sheet Online Edition

January 11, 2010 • Issue 10:01:01

A new level of protection

In December 2009, the Online Trust Alliance, a nonprofit organization representing more than 1 million businesses and 500 million consumers worldwide, submitted public comments supporting the Federal Trade Commission's goals to eliminate the abuse and theft of consumer data and redefine the term "consumer privacy" to raise levels of protection.

The comments will be presented at the FTC's Roundtable in Berkeley, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2010.

The OTA is dedicated to developing best practices and providing educational resources for merchants and financial institutions. The aim is to create a trusted global online ecosystem. Additionally, the OTA hopes to help eradicate e-mail and Internet fraud, abuse and cyber crime.

The organization has regional chapters in the United States, Canada, the Asia Pacific and Europe. It is governed by a board and steering committee that includes representatives from Bank of America Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., VeriSign Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Symantec Corp., to name a few.

The FTC's roundtable discussions will explore the privacy challenges posed by the array of technology and business practices employed by retailers, data brokers, third-party applications and a diversity of other businesses in the collection and use of consumer data.

Information is collected via social networking, cloud computing, online advertising and mobile marketing, in addition to traditional e-commerce Web sites.

Three-sided coin

According to Craig Spiezle, the OTA's Executive Director, the organization recommended a three-pronged approach to the FTC: advancing a standardized Privacy & Data Collection Statement, increasing integration of privacy-based browser controls and encouraging businesses to advise consumers to upgrade to secure Web browsers.

"A network which empowers consumers to make informed decisions when it comes to sharing their data and the use of a browser with integrated privacy controls is essential to the vitality of the digital lifestyle," Spiezle said.

"In this period with online trust being eroded by cybercrime and deceptive business practices, those businesses who are early adopters will realize a trust dividend in the eyes of the consumer and in the wallets of stockholders."

Spiezle added that legitimate businesses recognize consumer trust and online confidence as a valuable resource; like the environment, it must be protected.

"It is our responsibility collectively to adopt practices and policies which can help to stem the tide of ever-eroding online trust and promote the vitality and promise of the Internet," he said.

"Companies who do the right thing will yield trust dividends, benefiting their customers and investors."

A house undivided

OTA officials said that not unlike a health department rating for rest-aurants or nutrition labels on food products, a standardized framework to protect consumers and the Internet landscape is required to enable consumers to make informed choices regarding requests they encounter for collection of their data during online activities.

To this end, the OTA recommends a uniform Privacy & Data Collection Statement for all Web sites, e-mail marketers, and retail points of collection that store and track consumer data.

Advancing consumers' controls and right to notification is central to the OTA's core objectives, which include providing consumers a concise and comparative view to how Web sites will use their data, an understanding of the value and assurances consumers are receiving when doing business with any given site, and the ability to manage the data they submit or which may have been previously collected.

"The problem today is that many browsers offer some sort of controls, but unfortunately all too often they are not intuitive, and in some cases not discoverable, due to the conflicting priorities of the companies that develop them," Spiezle said.

"And currently over 60 percent of Internet users are using an outdated version of their current browser.

"All leading browsers are provided free of charge, but consumers often do not know or understand the need to upgrade their systems and assume that if it's not broken, don't fix it.

Consumers simply need to visit their browser sites and download updated security software, which provides added protection from phishing, malware and online threats."

Critical issues

OTA officials encourage browser vendors to continuously innovate for the benefit of consumers, while allowing Web sites to know when new browser features are enabled. To maximize consumer controls, the OTA recommends features be integrated into browsers, which helps all segments of users to easily benefit from them.

Spiezle added that outdated browsers are fine for protection from last year's threats but not today's. While upgrades are not a silver bullet, updated browsers, patched application software, and virus and malware software are all critical components to help protect both consumers and their business/employer data, he said. "Consumer protection needs to be accelerated, and the OTA is calling on all commerce, financial services and government sites to support users when it comes to upgrading their outdated and insecure browsers," Spiezle said.

"So through a combination of standardized notice, integrated browser controls and teachable moments, the OTA's recommendations support the FTC's goals, while helping to maximize online trust and confidence and the long-term vitality of online marketing, advertising and consumer services." end of article

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