Consumer Watchdog Hammers Online Industry, Cites Study Claiming Websites Often Share Personal Info

By Ed Silverstein October 12, 2011

Consumer Watchdog is blasting the online industry after a study was released from Stanford University's Computer Security Laboratory which says that online information is frequently shared without the knowledge of consumers.

The study revealed that a consumer’s username or ID was shared with another website on 61 percent of 185 of the most visited websites, according to Consumer Watchdog.

In response, Consumer Watchdog asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the relevant privacy issues.

“This study proves that personally identifiable information is regularly shared without consumers’ knowledge. We can’t rely on industry promises to protect consumer privacy; clearly we need Do Not Track legislation and we need it now,” John M. Simpson, privacy project director at Consumer Watchdog, said in an organization statement.

The FTC backed creating a "do not track" option for the Internet in a report made public in 2010. The option would restrict advertisers in the collection of consumer data, according to TechZone 360.

“It appears that most companies’ privacy policies are nothing but empty promises and worthless shams,” Simpson said. “The Federal Trade Commission needs to examine their claims closely and take action where there is deception.”

In a related matter, TechZone360 also reported that the top recipients of username and user ID information were Facebook, Google, comScore and Quantcast. And OkCupid, a dating website, may sell user info to BlueKai and Lotame, such as: “gender, age, ZIP code, relationship status, and drug use frequency,” TechZone 360 said.

The FTC is aware of the issue.

"A host of invisible cyberazzi, cookies and other data catchers follow us as we browse, reporting our every stop and action to marketing companies that in turn collect an astonishingly complete profile of our online behavior," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said at a recent privacy forum held at the National Press Club.

Ed Silverstein is a TechZone360 contributor. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

TechZone360 Contributor

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