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Building Trust 7 January 2020

Deep Dive: How Does the Consumer Sector Score on Privacy and Security?

Kenneth Olmstead
By Kenneth OlmsteadSenior Internet Security and Privacy Expert

In April 2019 the Internet Society’s Online Trust Alliance released its 10th annual Online Trust Audit & Honor Roll. The Audit looks at the security and privacy practices of over 1,000 of the top sites on the Internet from retailers to government sites. In this post we will take a deeper dive into the Consumer section of the Audit. The Consumer section is a diverse set of sites including travel sites, hotels, and dating sites (see the methodology of the report for the full list).

In 2018 the Consumer section improved its standings with 85% making the honor roll, up from 76% in 2017. This was largely due to improvements in email security. Despite these gains in overall email security, TLS 1.3 adoption was actually down in 2018 (largely due to a change in the list of retail sites). Despite this OTA advocates the adoption of TLS 1.3.

Where these sites did stand out, compared to other sectors, was in privacy scores. Overall, the Consumer sector scored 43 out of 55 on their privacy tracker score, among the highest of any sector, and 33 out of 55 on their privacy statement, also among the highest.

The Consumer section privacy statements were exemplary in a few ways. First, the Consumer section had the highest score in the use of archives for their privacy statements, 12% of consumer sites had archives, the highest of any sector in the Audit.

OTA advocates this practice so users can see what changes were made to the privacy statement over time, without having to compare past statements on their own. This is a transparency issue. Privacy statements change constantly and it helps the organization to give users an easy way to see those changes.

Second, the Consumer section also stood out in data sharing language. 68% of Consumer sites had language they do not share data with third parties, among the highest of any sector. In addition, only 39% had language that they share data with “affiliates.”

“Affiliate” language is about sharing data within a corporate family, as opposed to entirely third parties. While obviously common practice, OTA advocates that organizations be more open about their data sharing practices, even among the corporate family.

Finally, the Consumers section scored among the highest with language explicitly saying that they hold their vendors to the same standards as themselves. In short, this is about holding any vendor that might hold data to the same data privacy standards as an organization would hold itself.

Overall, 74% of Consumer sites had language indicating they held their vendors to their own standards. This compares to 50% overall, well above the average for the entire sample. OTA advocates language like this because often data breaches happen with third party vendors, as opposed to the main organization itself, and therefore it is important that any organization make it clear that they hold all of their partners to the same standards they hold themselves.

How would your organization do in the Audit? Read the report to see how you’d stack up, and use it to improve your site’s security and privacy. Then view the infographic or watch the recap video to learn more!

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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