Your Personal Info: Who Lets it Slip?

Thursday Mar 31st 2005 by Tim Gray
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Report says banks and insurance companies most likely to hand out personal information.

When it comes to privacy and personal information, small business owners need to concerned not only about their own, but their customers' as well. The recent rash of personal data thefts may be keeping data brokers on their toes, but other industries -- both small and large -- could stand to improve their policies when it comes to keeping their customers' sensitive information secure, a new report finds.

Financial services firms, retailers and insurance companies rated as the worst offenders in the loose-with-data category, according to a study released by Boston-based consulting firm The Customer Respect Group.

Of the 60 financial services firms queried for the survey -- including banks and brokerages -- 43 percent admitted to sharing personal data with business partners or third parties.

"It is not a good practice," said Terry Golesworthy, president of The Customer Respect Group. "If you look at the biggest fears of Internet users today, it is that there is too much personal information out there."

Retailers ranked as the worst offenders, with 47 percent of the 58 retailers surveyed in the fourth quarter of 2004 saying they shopped around consumer information.

Insurance companies did a little better, with 35 percent sharing personal data with business partners or third parties.

Airline and travel companies performed the best when it came to keeping consumer information under wraps, with only 28 percent releasing data to other sources, according to the survey.

Although the data intentionally leaked by companies in these industries is not of the same sensitive nature, for example, as the information divulged in the ChoicePoint debacle, e-mail address, zip codes and residential addresses are often used to cross-market products within their company, or even to third parties.

Many times that data can lead to an influx of product pitches that often drive consumers crazy.

The Online Customer Respect study also measured a company's online presence, determining how responsive organizations are to online queries and how easy it is to get information from those sites.

Although financial services companies scored the lowest in the category of releasing data, the group ranked the highest regarding online customer service.

"With more people continuing to go online to do business the issue of privacy will continue," Golesworthy said. "Eventually consumers will search out vendors they trust."

Adapted from internetnews.com.

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