2008 Most Trusted Companies for Privacy Award: eBay is #1 Internet Company; #2 Overall

Richard Brewer-Hay

Privacy and information management research firm Ponemon Institute along with Internet privacy leader TRUSTe, have announced the results of their fifth annual survey of Most Trusted Companies for Privacy** and eBay is ranked second overall, behind only American Ponemon Institute, TRUSTeExpress (#1 for the fourth year in a row) and ranked first among Internet companies. The study asked 6,500 people to name the 5 companies they trusted the most and the 5 companies they trusted the least (the group of consumers was weighted by gender, age and household income to match the US census). A total of 706 companies were named by consumers; 211 made the final list of most trusted companies.

In a year that has seen eBay get hammered publicly, in large part due to its sweeping changes to the Marketplace, it is fascinating to see that the company jumped from #8 to #2 in that same time-frame (and #1 for online companies). After sitting down with Scott Shipman, eBay’s Global Privacy Leader, there are a few telling changes over the past 12 months one could speculate may have helped with this high honor.

1. PayPal
With PayPal being required on more transactions, regardless of what some cynics may believe, it has definitely increased the odds exponentially of a buyer experiencing a successful, private transaction. In fact, I would argue that the PayPal integration has added privacy to the site overall and that the perceived trust that comes along with that is inevitable.

2. Standardized Privacy Policies
It’s not sexy but then neither is Trust & Privacy when you think about it (no offense to Scott), but over the past 12 months Scott’s team has conducted a painstakingly clinical assessment and completed a thorough update and standardization of eBay’s privacy policies around the world. I realize that the Ponemon Institute and TRUSTe report is based on North America only but this behind-the-scenes effort can only help earn credibility in privacy and trust.

3. eBay AdChoice
eBay first rolled out AdChoice, as part of its behavioral ad targeting, back in 2007.
Scott posted to the Announcement Board in October, 2007, in which he said:

“Your online privacy and safety is paramount to eBay, and we think AdChoice is a good example of what a company with a strong commitment to privacy can do to ensure transparency and control over personalized advertising. We’re glad to be a pioneer in this area, and we’re pleased that these issues are getting attention from many other companies these days, too. We all benefit as the industry raises the bar on privacy.”

Behavioral targeting became a significant public issue in 2008 but Scott’s team had already got out in front of it, meeting with the FTC in November of 2007 and enhancing the AdChoice program heading into 2008.

Not a Popularity Contest
Having said all of this, first and foremost, I guess this isn’t a brand popularity contest. It’s not about who is the flavor of the month with the media (Google didn’t make the cut this year; Apple and Yahoo! weren’t on it last year). It’s about feeling safe, secure and private when using the services of a particular company (NOTE: I should point out that the report does not break down the different business units of eBay… it covers all sub-brands of the eBay Inc. umbrella – PayPal, eBay.com, Skype, StubHub, etc.).

Every eBay initiative since I joined the company in January has been focused on the “buyer experience.” So when all is said and done, I would argue that this report validates and supports those business initiatives for 2008. (I know, I know, let’s see 6,500 eBay sellers receive the same questions and then where will eBay land on the list?).

I’ll leave you with a very interesting comment from my conversation with Scott. He said that Privacy is all about transparency, all about communicating with the customer and having the customer feel like they have all the necessary information at their disposal in order to make an educated decision to trust the company. I think eBay has been very hit and miss in this department for 2008. I think executives have taken steps (granted they’re somewhat baby steps – but steps nonetheless) to be more transparent, to share information at a public level. Additionally, I believe that eBay has a high number of communication outlets that are extremely disparate and are, quite simply, unknown. Thankfully, there are a lot of initiatives in place for online communication in 2009 that are light-years beyond where we are currently and I look forward to being a big part of their development.

Regardless of how you feel about eBay as a brand going into 2009, it is a fantastic achievement by the company to rank #1 in trust and privacy online, at a time when concern about online privacy is at an all-time high.


**What is Privacy Trust? (As defined by TRUSTe and Ponemon Institute):
Privacy trust is a process companies can implement to motivate trust and confidence in how its leaders, employees and contractors (vendors) protect and secure private information about people and their families. Privacy trust requires a company to ensure that actual practices are aligned with the public’s perception about how their personal information is used, shared and retained. The key components of privacy trust are:
• Notice – Companies should clearly communicate their privacy policies and data practices to customers. These policies must be updated to reflect any changes in practices and policy.
• Choice or Consent – Companies should respect customers’ personal data and will not share non-public personal data, except as permitted or required by law.
• Access and Redress – Customer and employees should have reasonable access to their personal information as required by law and have the ability to correct any inaccuracies or misinformation held about them.
• Prudent Security – Companies need to take reasonable measures to protect data and limit access by unauthorized parties.
• Data Minimization and Accuracy – Companies should avoid collecting information they never need or plan to use. While the cost of storage is nominal, the excess information creates data integrity, quality and accuracy problems.