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Study: eBay, Yahoo among most trusted companies

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eBay is the most trusted company in terms of privacy, and Yahoo and Facebook are among the Top 10, according to a new report released on Wednesday.

Following eBay is Verizon, the U.S. Postal Service, WebMD, IBM, Procter & Gamble, Nationwide and Intuit, with Yahoo and Facebook in the ninth and tenth spots, the study from the Ponemon Institute and Truste says.

It was Facebook's debut on the list, as well as the first time a telecommunications company and a government operation cracked the top three.

While the list ranks the most trusted companies based on consumer brand perception it doesn't necessarily translate to the list of the most trustworthy companies, Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told CNET News.

"They really ought to do one ranking for the poll and a separate one for the actual privacy evaluation," Bankston wrote on Facebook. "Blending them together makes these rankings rather useless, IMHO."

Basically, privacy practices were analyzed and ranked only for a list of 23 companies that were highly rated in a survey of more than 6,000 U.S. consumers earlier this year, according to Truste spokeswoman Carolyn Hodge. The Top 20 from that survey were analyzed and that included 23 companies because of several ties, she said.

So, the latest study most accurately reflects which companies were deemed to have the best privacy practices among a list of companies that consumers perceive as being trustworthy.

"It absolutely is based on consumers' perception of specific brands. That's what we're trying to get at," Hodge said. "The idea behind this research is to promote consumer education about privacy and to promote adoption of best practices by companies...We understand consumers are probably going to name companies they trust and there may not be a clear correlation with privacy."

Regardless, Hodge and Larry Ponemon, founder of the institute that bears his name, said the companies on the list deserved recognition.

"None of these companies is doing badly at privacy," said Hodge. "We're talking about the best companies out there."

"Clearly there can be variance between perception and reality," Ponemon said. But, he noted, Verizon recently adopted a new more consumer-friendly privacy policy, eBay does a good job on data security and Facebook has made great improvements lately on user privacy.

"I'm not a big fan, but what Facebook is is an experiment...they've had issues and come a long way on privacy," he said.

In assessing the level of trustworthiness of the popular brands, Truste staff looked at 40 criteria, Hodges said. The criteria included things like whether a company: has a clear, readability and easy to find privacy statement; provides adequate access to account information; uses cookies and discloses that to users; shares data with other companies and affiliates; has a data retention policy; has a chief privacy officer; whether they disclose a user's e-mail during password reset; and whether they use Web beacons.

In addition, representatives from the Ponemon Institute called companies without identifying themselves and asked questions about privacy practices to see how well their customer service representatives respond to consumer inquiries about that.
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