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Your Own Beeswax
How much do you trust Facebook and Google with your personal information?
If trust is the bedrock of a great brand, then some of today’s hottest brands seem to be built on pebbles. The latest Hub Magazine survey detected considerable doubt among readers that the online brands they know and use can be trusted with their personal information.

We listed eight popular online brands — Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Twitter, Bing, Amazon, Zappos and iTunes — roughly an even mix of social media sites and e-commerce leaders. We simply asked readers to indicate whether each brand was “trustworthy” or “not trustworthy.”

Zappos and LinkedIn scored highest by far, with Zappos earning the trust of 82 percent of respondents and LinkedIn trusted by 80 percent. Amazon, at 73 percent, was next highest on the trustworthiness scale, followed by iTunes at 63 percent and Twitter at 58 percent.

The other three brands were under water. Bing — the Microsoft search engine — was trusted by only 42 percent of respondents, with Google trusted by just 37 percent. Facebook fared the worst, with 82 percent of respondents saying the brand was “not trustworthy.”

We also asked readers to explain why they did or did not trust each of the eight brands, and certain patterns emerged. With Facebook, the most frequently cited reason for distrust was that Facebook changed its privacy policies too often. Many readers also complained that the changes usually were to Facebook’s own advantage, and made without sufficient notice.

Tracking online usage was the main source of unease among Google’s users. “History … they’ve got all of mine online,” said one respondent. “Google is known for using information in many mysterious ways,” said another. The problem with Bing, meanwhile, is that it is a Microsoft product and many respondents just don’t trust Microsoft. That said, a higher percentage of respondents said they trusted Bing more than Google.

On the positive side, Zappos, which recently endured a hacking incident in which user information was compromised, apparently weathered the storm because its customers love the Zappos brand of customer service. LinkedIn is trusted because it publishes only professional information (i.e., nothing too exciting”), and has not ventured into targeted advertising. As one respondent put it, “Trustworthiness is linked to intent and benefit.”

Amazon scored well primarily because its business model is premised on selling merchandise, not customer information. To the extent Amazon tracks users, most feel this is benign. “Amazon learns my book and music preferences, but I don’t feel like my personal details are being sold,” said one respondent. “Their sales would be zero if there were any security breaches,” another said.

iTunes scored perhaps a bit lower than expected, possibly because the survey coincided with news that it had allowed certain apps to collect personal information about users, despite a stated policy otherwise. Twitter is reasonably well-trusted because it imposes relatively fewer rules, allows users to remain anonymous, and generally affords more control to the user than other social-media sites.

Sixty-five percent of users said they have taken steps to protect their personal information online, usually by changing passwords, minimizing (or faking) shared information and tightening privacy settings. However, a plurality of 44 percent said they thought protecting their information online was a lost cause (40% said they weren’t sure).

Sixty percent liked the idea that consumers should be paid for the use of their personal information, although most doubted that this would ever happen. Thirty-nine percent said they would not pay a fee to keep their personal information private, while 33 percent said they would and 28 percent weren’t sure. Sixty percent said that Congress should take action to protect personal information online.

On an open-ended basis, we asked which brand was most trusted with personal information, and Amazon came out on top. Banks and various credit card companies also were frequently mentioned. As to which brand is least trusted — that would be Facebook — and yet very few said they had stopped using the site because of it.

MAY / JUNE 2012 | PDF | Subscribe | Home