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Friday, Jul 19 2013 06:00 PM

Action Line: Do homework before trusting personal information to websites

BY BLAIR LOONEY Contributing columnist

Editor's note: Action Line is a weekly column from the Better Business Bureau answering consumers' questions and concerns about money and business issues.

Dear Action Line,

Related Info

ONLINE RESOURCES

Online Privacy Alliance: www.privacyalliance.org

Center for Democracy and Technology: www.cdt.org

Economic Cooperation and Development: www.oecd.org

National Conference of State Legislatures: www.ncsl.org

California Business and Professions Code: http://tinyurl.com/h4qrc

I have recently lost my job and have been doing a lot of research on the internet. I have been looking at starting my own business, applying for positions on employment sites and looking for opportunities to create an income. I'm concerned about submitting information online. What can I do to make sure the sites I am visiting are safe?

Dear Reader,

It seems as though you've embraced your recent change as an opportunity. How right you are to be concerned about surfing the internet. If you are submitting private information on the internet without caution, you may well be compromising your personal privacy and your identity. Please read on for more information on what you need to know before your next internet session.

Privacy policies usually have a link on the bottom of home page and/or each page of a site. You may also find it listed in the site map or on the main menu. Read the policy, make sure you understand it. Organizations that are online should tell you what information they collect, with whom it is shared, how it can be corrected, how it is secured, how policy changes will be communicated and how to address concerns over misuse of personal data.

According to privacyalliance.org, an organization's privacy policy must be easy to find, read and understand. The policy must be available prior to or at the time that individually identifiable information is collected or requested. So when you visit a site, check their privacy policy first. Find out what the organization does with any of your information BEFORE you submit anything.

Also, be sure you know what security measures are taken to protect the information and what enforcement and redress mechanisms are in place. Then you can decide whether or not you want them to have your information.

Individuals must be given the opportunity to exercise choice regarding how individually identifiable information collected from online may be used when such use is unrelated to the purpose for which the information was collected. At a minimum, individuals should be given the opportunity to opt out of such use.

Organizations creating, maintaining, using or disseminating individually identifiable information should take appropriate measures to assure reliability, and should take reasonable precautions to protect it from loss, misuse or alteration. They should take reasonable steps to assure that third parties to which they transfer such information are aware of these security practices, and that the third parties also take reasonable precautions to protect any transferred information.

Check the accompanying resources for why privacy policies are so important. And if you need to add one to your own site, there is assistance for that, too.

Blair Looney is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or info@cencal.bbb.org. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.

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