Study: Web Sites Lack Basic Protections

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More than two-thirds of American and European consumer Web sites collect personal information but lack basic privacy protections, according to a privacy study released last month by 13 member organizations of Consumers International, a global organization comprising 263 consumer groups.


The study examined 751 consumer Web sites from March to July last year.


Participating consumer groups surfed consumer Web sites and noted privacy practices, including whether personal information was collected, whether a privacy policy was in place, whether an opt out was available and whether cookies were used.


"Widespread neglect of good privacy practice is all the more worrying when you consider that electronic technologies for collection of data develop so rapidly," said Anna Fielder, director of the office for developed and transition economies at Consumers International, London.


According to the survey findings, 58 percent of sites that collected data had privacy policies in place but only 32.5 percent of those sites alerted users to the policy at the point of data collection.


Of all sites surveyed, 39 percent had access to a privacy policy from the home page.


The 177 U.S.-based sites categorized as "most popular" fared better, with 62.5 percent alerting users to a privacy policy at the point of data collection and 97.5 percent posting privacy policies clearly on the site.


The "most popular" category was determined by site traffic and covered a range of heavily used sites.


Overall, only 20 percent of the surveyed Web sites offered users a choice of opting out of the site's mailing list. Nine percent allowed users to opt out of affiliates' lists, and 9.5 percent had an opt out for third-party lists. On the "most popular" U.S. sites, those percentages increased to 57.5 percent, 42.5 percent and 47.5 percent, respectively.


By setting their browsers to alert them when Web sites placed cookies, the study found that more than one-third of all sites visited tried to place at least one cookie.


Also, cookies were placed by 92 percent of U.S. "most popular" sites in the study.


Of the Web sites used for this study, 340 were U.S. sites and 339 were European Union sites.


The American Council on Consumer Interests participated in the study.
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