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Tuesday, Jan 29, 2013 6:41pm
Apple drops from top 20 'most trusted' companies for privacy
The Ponemon Institute has issued its annual report ranking the most trusted companies on the issue of consumer privacy, and for the first time in three years Apple is not in the top 20, reports AppleInsider. The company had gotten as high as eighth place in 2009, but has steadily fallen in the ranking since then, entering 21st place in the latest report. The survey also revealed that American consumers have contradictory views on the issue of privacy, saying it is important but admitting to giving out sensitive information very freely.

The top 10 most trusted companies leads off with perennial winner American Express, followed by Hewlett-Packard, Amazon, IBM, the US Postal Service, Proctor & Gamble, USAA, Nationwide Insurance, Ebay and Intuit. Apple was edged out of the top 20 by the Mozilla Foundation, but came in two places ahead of Google and five places ahead of Facebook. Microsoft, which had never previously ranked in the top 20, vaulted to the number 17 position in the 2012 report.

Both Apple and Google's 2012 ratings were likely further damaged by a Federal Trade Commission report last month that said that the proprietors of the two largest app stores were not doing enough to protect the privacy of children. Survey respondents listed "identity theft" as their primary concern regarding online privacy, with "children abuses" actually ranking last among the choices offered. "Government surveillance" was ranked second, though curiously "notification of data breaches" was ranked third, suggesting that consumers dislike being informed of when their data has been compromised almost as much as they dislike it being compromised in the first place.

In addition, the survey revealed a widening gap between the increasing importance of safeguarding personal information (which has risen to 78 percent, an eight-point gain since 2006) and a rapidly-diminishing sense of having any control over one's personal information (down from 55 percent to 35 percent in the same timeframe). The biggest problem on that front, however, appears to come from consumers themselves: more than 60 percent of respondents admitted that they have shared "sensitive" personal information with organizations they do not know or trust, and also said they don't read privacy policies or rely on them (or privacy ratings) in determining trustworthiness.

Some 61 percent of respondents felt that their privacy rights have diminished over time, but also said they don't read privacy policies because they are "too long" and contain "too much legalese." The survey did not probe into what criteria Americans do use to determine trustworthiness, but other surveys have found that the slightest of rewards (entrance to a site, tiny monetary rewards or even just the promise of entertainment or convenience) is enough to get consumer to part with personal data, reveal passwords they frequently use and even disclose vital financial information.

The respondents did list some policies that make them feel more comfortable, including the appearance of strong security precautions, the ability to opt-out or be "forgotten" if a service or site is not used after a period of time, the option of revoking consent if circumstances change, limits on data retention and being notified to give consent before data is shared -- similar to the requests Apple has now implemented throughout iOS devices, requiring permission to access certain kinds of data even if such access is an obvious part of the app (such as a photo-editing program, which must now request access to photos before being able to perform its function).

The survey was based on just over 6,700 responses from a geographically-balanced array of US adult consumers. The survey was conducted across 15 weeks ending in December 2012.