Is Your Privacy Protected? Here’s How to Find Out

Living our lives online can be fun and convenient, but it comes at a price. Entire industries have been built around the collection, sharing, and use of personal information in ways that can leave us feeling vulnerable, embarrassed, or manipulated. If poorly handled, this information can be leaked or hacked by people intent on spying, identity theft, or worse.

While much of the media attention has focused on privacy lapses by big tech platforms, a much wider swath of companies have access to personal information. Not just your phone, but also your car, your voice assistant, and more and more of your appliances may be collecting personal data.

Even old-fashioned companies like restaurants and grocery stores are seeking personal information for uses like loyalty programs — and some of them may be sharing or selling that information.

In JUST Capital’s 2019 survey — which asks the American public what they care about most when it comes to business practices — privacy has consistently been one of the areas that Americans want companies to prioritize. But it’s not really feasible anymore to disconnect from the world and stop sharing any information.

So, how can you tell which companies you can safely entrust your information to? We can help.

How JUST Capital Evaluates a Company’s Commitment to Privacy

Reading through privacy policies or terms of service can be daunting. Fortunately, to reflect the salience of this issue in the 21st century, we’ve greatly expanded the metrics we use to evaluate whether the companies we rank protect customer privacy. (Sign up for the JUST Report to stay on top of all our Rankings news, including the release of our 2020 Rankings on November 12!)

We worked with the digital rights nonprofit Ranking Digital Rights to develop our updated methodology, which encompasses 15 separate data points available through public records. Here are just some of the factors that we measure to determine whether a company protects customer privacy:

  • Does the company disclose a privacy policy? Does the policy cover the entire company, or only its website? Does the company notify users in advance about changes to this policy?
  • Does the company disclose its process for notifying data subjects about a breach or unusual account activity?
  • Has the company faced severe privacy controversies?
  • Does the company pledge to refrain from selling customer data or using it for marketing?
  • Does the company track user behavior or comply with “do not track” requests?

All of this information adds up to help us evaluate how the companies we rank protect customer privacy. It’s invaluable, especially if you want to entrust sensitive information to a company like a healthcare provider or financial institution.

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Want to Go Deeper? Do This

If you’re looking to drill even deeper into a company’s privacy practices, you have a few options. If you happen to be interested in large digital and telecom firms, check out Ranking Digital Rights’ Corporate Accountability Index. It evaluates 24 companies on privacy, free expression, and governance.

Another option: You can simply input the company’s name and “privacy” into a search engine. (Try “all” search results as well as “news” search results.) This is a remarkably effective way to uncover news about privacy controversies.

For example, we randomly put in a large nonprofit California health system, Sutter Health, and up came with news of a lawsuit claiming that the system secretly shared the results of patient searches for medical information with third parties that used them for targeted ads.

You can also take your own close look at a company’s privacy policy. See how recently the policy was updated. Find out what kind of information the company collects and how it will use it. Check whether the company promises to notify you of a data breach — not every state requires such a notification. You can also check if the company is allowed to use your image or likeness in promotional materials.

Finally, make sure you’re protecting yourself against privacy intrusions. Consumer Reports has one-stop advice on how to lock down your laptop, your smartphone, your other web-connected devices, your social media accounts, and even your snail mail. These measures will help ensure the door is locked no matter who comes knocking.

To learn more about which companies are leading the way in protecting your privacy, you can always explore our interactive Rankings – and the individual metrics and data points we track – here. Use the drop-down menu on the right to find out how companies perform on all the issues we track.

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