TRUSTe & Ponemon Institute Announce Finalists for the 2005 Most Trusted Company Title

San Francisco, CA – September 19, 2005 - TRUSTe, the leading non-profit promoting privacy in digital communications, and Ponemon Institute, a “think tank” dedicated to privacy and data protection research, today announced the finalists for the second annual Most Trusted Company for Privacy Award. More than seven thousand consumers were surveyed to collect opinions regarding online companies’ privacy practices and history.

The following companies (listed in rank order with last year’s top 20 rank in parentheses) were identified by consumers, in unaided response, for taking most care with personal information.

1. American Express (2) 12. Charles Schwab
2. Amazon (4) 13. Apple - includes iPod (19)
3. Proctor & Gamble - all brands (3) 14. Johnson & Johnson - all brands (14)
4. Hewlett-Packard (5) 15. WebMD
5. EBay (1) 16. E-Loan (17)
6. AOL 17. Washington Mutual (20)
7. US Postal Service (6) 18. Federal Express
8. Dell (10) 19. Yahoo
9. IBM (7) 20. USAA
10. EarthLink (8) 21. Disney (11)
11. Google

Survey participants registered greater concern about privacy in a year when privacy issues made headlines and identity theft became the fastest growing crime in the United States. The percentage of respondents calling the privacy of personal data “important” and “very important” grew by 1.4 percent each to a combined total of 84.8 percent.

“Maintaining consumers’ trust has never been harder or more important and these companies have succeeded in continually earning their customer’s confidence,” said Fran Maier, executive director and president, TRUSTe. “Participants were not given company names to rate; they were asked for the companies they considered noteworthy for their trustworthiness. This makes the entrance of three search/portal brands -- AOL, Google and Yahoo -- into the top twenty even more significant. People are more aware of the data held by these companies and appreciate the care shown in protecting that data.”

“AOL is committed to advancing good privacy practices on the Internet," said Tatiana Platt, chief trust officer and senior vice president, America Online, Inc.  "We are thrilled to see that consumers in this national study view us as one of the most trusted companies for privacy in America.”

"At Dell, we value our customers and pay special attention to protecting their data. The results from this survey demonstrate that respect for customer privacy and commitment to providing a secure purchase experience resonates with our customers," said Thurmond Woodard, Dell's chief ethics and compliance officer.

The survey also compiled rankings for 23 industry groups to track trends in consumers’ trust in larger markets. This year’s industry ranking showed a sharp decline for the banking industry, which moved from second to seventh overall. The top three industries were healthcare, consumer products and package & delivery.

“One reason for the public’s privacy concerns in banking may relate to the rise of phishing and spoofing attacks in Internet users,” said Dr. Larry Ponemon, chairman of Ponemon Institute. “Another factor that may have diminished consumer privacy trust is the wave of recent security breach incidents.”

Fourteen companies among the 187 companies included in last year’s survey experienced a security breach over the past year. Prior to the breaches, these companies as a group ranked five percent above the average. This year, the same group ranked 22 percent below the average.

Phishing also had significant impact on 2005 privacy trust scores for organizations identified as the most frequent targets. According to Dr. Ponemon, “Eleven organizations that experienced persistent phishing attacks during 2005, on average, experienced a 13 percent decline in overall ratings.” Companies hit the hardest were major retail banking organizations.

At the same time, media coverage about the company’s privacy and data protection practices became far more important criteria in respondents’ decisions, cited as critical factors by nearly twice as many participants as in last year’s survey.

“Consumers showed increased understanding of privacy issues this year, citing resolution of personal privacy concerns, media reports about the company’s privacy practices and respect for consumers’ privacy significantly more often compared to last year, and the company’s overall reputation less often,” said Ponemon. “More people understand that companies with good products are not necessarily better at managing privacy issues.

Respondents cited a wide range of factors as key points to consider in judging the companies’ trustworthiness. Factors cited by more than a third of the participants included:
  • Overall reputation of the company for product or service quality
  • The company’s limits over the collection, use and sharing of personal information
  • Quality of advertisements and solicitations that are respectful of my privacy requirements and rights
  • Sense of security protections when providing personal information
  • The privacy policy of the company

According to procedure, 20 companies were to be selected, but a tie for twentieth place resulted in 21 finalists.

TRUSTe and the Ponemon Institute, with the help of Watchfire, a website compliance software maker, will now evaluate finalists’ policies and privacy records against a strict set of guidelines to select the Most Trusted Company of 2005. Last year’s winner was Hewlett-Packard.

About Ponemon Institute, LLC 
Ponemon Institute is a “think tank” dedicated to advancing responsible information management practices in business and government. To achieve this objective, Ponemon Institute conducts independent research on privacy and information security, educates leaders from the private and public sectors, and verifies the privacy and data protection practices of organizations. The Institute is headquartered in Michigan. For more information, visit www.ponemon.org or contact (800) 887.3118.

About TRUSTe
TRUSTe is the leading global Data Privacy Management (DPM) company and powers trust in the data economy by enabling businesses to safely collect and use customer data across their customer, employee, and vendor channels. Our SaaS-based DPM Platform gives users control over all phases of data privacy management from conducting assessments and implementing compliance controls to managing ongoing monitoring. Our DPM Services, including assessments and certifications, are delivered by an expert team of privacy professionals. Thousands of companies worldwide rely on TRUSTe to minimize compliance risk and protect their brand.