Privacy, security top consumer worries online: Consumer Reports at FTC forum

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WASHINGTON - Seventy-two percent of consumers who responded to a ConsumerReports.org survey are concerned about the security of their personal and financial information.

This information was presented by Jeff Fox, technology editor for Consumer Reports and its online counterpart, ConsumerReports.org, who spoke on a panel at "Protecting Consumers in the Next Tech-ade," the Federal Trade Commission's public hearings.

The hearings are taking place at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium Nov. 6-8. The panel, which discussed the benefits to consumers of living in an instant information culture, was moderated by Lee Rainie, project director at the Pew Internet and American Life Project, Washington.

The ConsumerReports.org study also found that "only 64 percent said that they always use the same credit card online and about 70 percent use [Web] sites' privacy policies," said Mr. Fox, whose organization is based in Yonkers, NY.

Despite these concerns, the panelists discussed how access to information on the Internet improves consumer buying behaviors.

The other panelists were Kamran Pourzanjnai, president and co-founder of PriceGrabber.com, an Experian price comparison site in Los Angeles; Mark Chandler, executive vice president of sales and chief operating officer at Autoland, an online car buying service based in Sherman Oaks, CA; and Liam Levery, general counsel of Seattle-based Zillow.com, an online real estate service.

Mr. Fox said that his company was reinventing itself for the 21st century. Consumer Reports is the largest subscription-based publication online and is a nonprofit. It is non-commercial and includes no advertising.

The Consumer Reports Web site, for example, now includes product selector software that allows visitors to select from lists of products by different criteria, such as products ranked as very good or excellent by the organization.

Site users can also drill down to receive detailed information about the product models and links to shopping sites where the products can be purchased.

"This turns the once static rating tables into a 21st-century tool," Mr. Fox said.

He said Consumer Reports has been using consumer content in its print edition for decades through its annual questionnaire sent out to 3.5 million people about products reviewed each year. But its site now has "expanded the number of online forums, where consumers can share experiences," Mr. Fox said.

The company is also introducing user reviews, separate from its own tests.

"We're really working to perform and protect consumers solely," Mr. Fox said. "That's who we answer to."

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