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Do as you say, not as you do

Attorney Eric J. Sinrod says the statistics belie the general impression that people are taking privacy precautions when they go online.

    On the surface, it sounds encouraging: a great majority of Internet users in the United States report that they know how and take active steps to protect their privacy when they are online.

    Yet, a bit of drilling down proves that most of them still are not safeguarding their personal information.

    This news comes to us via a recent survey by TRUSTe, an organization that helps consumers and businesses identify trustworthy online entities through its Web Privacy and Email Privacy Seals, and TNS, a market information group that claims to be the world's largest provider of custom research and analysis.

    Specifically, the survey documents that 86 percent of American Internet users say they are knowledgeable about protecting their private information, while 57 percent say they consistently take necessary steps to do so.

    Notwithstanding such affirmative proclamations, the survey reveals that most Internet users do not read privacy policies posted on Web sites, which is one of the best means to learn how private information will be handled.

    Moreover, only 28 percent of respondents report that "most of the time" they check to ensure that Web sites even have privacy policies. And, only 20 percent actually read privacy policies when they are posted. On top of that, only 5 percent frequently check back to find out if privacy policies have been changed.

    TRUSTe, based on guidelines issued by the Federal Trade Commission, recommends that Internet users implement various actions to protect their personal information on the Internet. Unfortunately, the survey shows that a minority of Internet users have implemented 8 of the 11 recommended actions, as follows:

    • 45 percent have used more than one e-mail address, such that one is reserved only for private communications.

    • 43 percent have read privacy policies posted on Web sites.

    • 37 percent have taken steps to back up important files.

    • 33 percent have provided e-mail addresses and other information in a way that would not disclose their identity.

    • 33 percent have changed passwords regularly.

    • 26 percent have sought out third-party privacy seals or certifications.

    • 16 percent have put e-mail encryption in place.

    • 12 percent have logged in to Web sites anonymously.

    There is a bit of good news. Most Internet users have followed three of the recommended actions, as follows:

    • 81 percent have utilized antivirus, antispyware or firewall software.

    • 76 percent have updated such software.

    • 67 percent have put in place measures to block pop-ups, reject cookies or block certain sites.

    With further education, more American Internet users hopefully will follow all 11 of TRUSTe's privacy practice recommendations. Let's all get the word out, especially as we approach the holiday season and more people will be going online to make purchases while revealing private information.