Social sites beat retailers and banks for consumer protection and privacy

For the second year in a row, social media sites (including gaming and dating sites) are leading the way in consumer security and privacy protections, beating out Internet retailers and banks, according to an annual comprehensive audit by the Online Trust Alliance (OTA).

Even though social sites led the pack in OTA’s audit, the general trend for consumer security and privacy protection is good, says Craig Spiezle, president and executive director of OTA. The sites that performed the best in the adoption of 14 industry accepted best practices, open standards and privacy practices, and criteria and best practices advocated by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) were named to OTA’s Online Trust Honor Roll.

Thirty-two percent of the companies audited by the OTA qualified for the Honor Roll this year, up from 30 percent last year, even though Spiezle says the criteria were tightened in several areas. Nearly half (121) of the companies that achieved the Honor Roll had also been Honor Roll recipients in last year’s audit. However, 47 percent of the companies that made the Honor Roll in 2012 did not qualify for the 2013 Honor Roll.

“The bar has risen significantly,” Spiezle says. “We were very pleasantly surprised that the number of audited companies making the honor roll went up from 30 percent to 32 percent. We did not anticipate that.”

“Being named to the 2013 Online Trust Honor Roll is a significant achievement,” he adds. “The adoption of best practices not only helps to protect customers, it also builds brand integrity, enhances click through and reduces the risk of shopping cart abandonment.”

Metrics considered for online trust honor roll

OTA audited more than 750 domains and privacy policies, more than 10,000 webpages and more than 500 million emails associated with the Internet Retailer 500 (IR500), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC 100) and Social 50 and Federal Government 50 sites. OTA identified and evaluated three key areas of competency that Spiezle says are essential to maximizing online trust:

Domain, brand, and consumer protection

This area included a review of best practices with regard to email authentication; domain-based message authentication, reporting and conformance (DMARC) and domain locking.

Site, server and infrastructure security: This area included a review of best practices with regard to SSL server configuration, extended validation of SSL certificates (EV SSL), Always-on SSL (AOSSL), 2048-bit key or elliptic curve cryptography (ECC) certificates and domain name system security extension (DNSSEC).

Data protection, privacy, and transparency

This area included a review of best practices with regard to privacy policy and third-party tracking, honoring of Do Not Track browser settings (DNT) and public vs. private WHOIS registration; this area also took into account data breach and data loss incidents and FTC/state settlements.

Companies had to receive a composite score of 80 percent or more of the available points to qualify for the honor roll. Additionally, a new requirement was added this year: The companies had to score at least 55 percent of the points in each of the three major categories of brand/domain protection, site security and privacy policies and practices.

“We really believe that trust and security is like a chain,” Spiezle explains. “You’re only secure as your weakest link.”

“One of the areas that we’re really pushing is the need to move from a compliance perspective to one of stewardshipfrom what you have to do to comply to what you can do that’s above and beyond,” he adds.

Twitter takes top consumer security, privacy honors

Spiezle notes that Twitter, which achieved the highest composite score of any of the companies audited, is an exemplar of that approach.

“Twitter is pleased to have earned the top score on the OTA Honor Roll,” says Bob Lord, director of information security at Twitter. “By supporting Always-on SSL, Do Not Track, DMARC and most recently login verification, we aim to keep users connected securely to everything happening in the global town square.”

Companies in the Social 50 outpaced both the IR500 and FDIC 100 two to one in the percentage of companies qualifying for the Honor Roll. Spiezle notes that companies focused on social tend to be much newer, which in turn tends to make them more agile, as they are less dependent on legacy technologies. Many banks and commerce sites are saddled with complex legacy sites and data centers that impede their ability to quickly adopt best practices.

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