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TOP 10 WAYS TO PROTECT ONLINE PRIVACY

Source: The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants

Posted on August 12, 2000

      The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants announced today that representatives of the global accounting profession gathered in Paris last week for a three-day conference to explore solutions to the risks of e-commerce, including protection of online privacy.

      Opportunities for data mining of private information by businesses, government and individuals have increased exponentially with the growth of the Internet, creating concern in many sectors. Along with the increased use of the Internet as a medium of exchange for goods and services comes the need to find the correct balance between the appropriate use of information for business purposes and real privacy protection for individuals.

      "Privacy is one of the most pressing concerns of consumers in the U.S. and other countries," said Robert Elliott, Chairman of the AICPA. "In a recent IBM/Harris Poll, 94% of U.S. citizens said they were concerned about the possible misuse of their personal information. As the representative of over 335,000 individual members of the accounting profession who deal with confidential information on behalf of both individuals and businesses, we feel strongly about the need to protect private information. Consumers and businesses want to know that their privacy is protected both on- and off-line."

      Representing Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Scotland, Spain, the United States and Wales, the group recommends the following ten ways in which Internet users can protect their personal privacy:

  1. Be cautious about giving personal information. Do not disclose your personal information, such as your address, telephone number or email address, unless you know WHO is collecting the information, WHY they are collecting it, and HOW they will use it.

  2. Use a secure Internet browser. Your browser is used to navigate the Internet and should comply with industry security standards using a technology like Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption. The SSL technology encrypts or scrambles your Internet transaction information, thereby ensuring the security of your transaction. Most computers come with a browser already installed. You should check to see that it incorporates SSL technology. You can also download more secure browser versions from the Internet at no cost.

  3. Make sure the merchant site is secure and review its privacy policy. Look at the merchant's Web site address, referred to as the Uniform Resource Locator, or "URL," to see of the site is secure. A secure URL address begins with "https://," where the "s" refers to the fact that the site is secure. In addition, review the security disclosures of the sites you visit, along with their privacy policies regarding the collection and use of your personal information.

    Some disclosures are easier to locate than others. Look at the bottom of the site's "home page," on the transaction page, or in the "About" or "FAQs" section of a site. If you cannot locate these disclosures, or the web site does not allow you to opt out of having your personal information gathered for marketing or other purposes, consider moving to another site for your transaction. Use digital signatures to help authenticate the identity of senders and recipients on the Internet.

  4. Pay by credit or charge card. In some countries, if you pay for online purchases with a credit or charge card, your transaction may be protected by additional laws or regulations. Some card issuers offer online shopping guarantees that ensure that you will not be held responsible for unauthorized charges made online, and others also may offer additional warranty, return and/or purchase protection benefits.

  5. Beware of "Trojan Horse" programs. Be careful when downloading programs off of the Internet from an unknown source. Avoid programs that carry harmful code inside what appears to be benign programs or data - these programs can gather your personal information such as passwords or banking information that exists on both public and private computers.

    Known as "Trojan horses," these programs are designed to sneak through firewalls designed to protect you. If you suspect a Trojan horse has hit your computer, remember that they are NOT viruses. This means that anti-virus software will not protect you against them nor will it stop the programs form gathering your private information. You should download a detection program to find Trojan horses and eliminate or disable them.

  6. Never give your passwords to anyone online. This warning includes your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Try to be original when you create a password. The safest type of password includes unusual combinations of numbers and upper- and lower-case alpha characters, in addition to symbols. Avoid using your name, telephone number, birth date or other easily identifiable number or code.

  7. Keep records of your online transactions and check your credit card statements. Always keep a copy of each purchase order along with a confirmation number for the transaction and put into your files. This information could be useful if you need to contact the merchant again to resolve delivery and billing problems, as well as process returns of your purchases. Check your credit card statements each month to verify purchases you made online - confirm that the correct amount was billed - and to make sure that no unauthorized charges were made.

    Contact your card issuer if you find any incorrect or unauthorized charges. Many card issuers will remove the charge in question until it is resolved with the merchant. Also contact the merchant directly if you have any question about a charge for one of your purchases. Report any suspected fraudulent use of your credit card to your card issuer.

  8. Monitor the use of "cookies" by a site. Sometimes a site will want to place a cookie onto your computer for purposes of tracking your behavior. Cookies are small pieces of code that can also keep track of passwords and user IDs when you sign onto a site. However, be aware that cookies can also track your site navigation even after you leave a site - this helps them to create a user profile of your online behavior. You can configure your browser to notify you when a site wants to place a cookie onto your computer, giving you the option to decline the cookie.

  9. Do not allow children to use the Internet without supervision. Children are particularly vulnerable when it comes to giving out personal information. Be sure to supervise your children when they are online, particularly when they are shopping or being asked to provide personal information. Global Accounting Profession Recommends Privacy Tips August 1, 2000 Page Five

  10. Look for sites that have been independently tested and verified. Look for sites that have been independently tested and verified by a third party to ensure the site has met certain principles and criteria covering acceptable privacy protection, security controls, disclosure of business practices and procedures, and integrity of transactions. For additional information about best practices for online privacy and other e-commerce issues, please refer to the WebTrust Principles and Criteria that can be found by visiting http://WebTrust.net or http://www.aicpa.org/webtrust/index.htm.

If you believe that your privacy has been violated by a web site, the AICPA recommends you take the following actions: contact the Consumer Response Center at the US Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection. This Center can be reached by calling toll-free at 1-877-FTC-HELP or writing them at: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C., 20580. You can also contact the National Consumer League's National Fraud Information Center toll-free at 1-800-876-7060 or visit their Web site at www.fraud.org.




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