Most web sites have privacy policies that generally identify what the site does with your personal information once it is submitted to them. Depending on the purpose of the web site, these policies can be very involved (on sites that collect and retain your credit card information and/or Social Security Numbers) to very simple (on sites that collect very little of your personal data).
Evaluating Privacy Policies
You should understand that in some circumstances, the moment you visit a web site information about you (although perhaps not personally identifiable) can be collected automatically by the web site, including your computer’s IP address, the date and time of your visit, the number of times you have visited this particular site, and (sometimes) where else on the Internet you have visited. Then, you may be in a position to submit personal information to the site – perhaps your credit card in order to complete an online purchase, a home phone number, a mailing address, a birth date, updates to a wishlist or baby gift registry, etc.
Selected Privacy Policies for Comparison*
Citibank; Republic First Bank; TD Bank; Wachovia Bank; WellsFargo
DRUG STORES (Prescriptions, Rebates)
CVS; Duane Reade; Rite Aid; Safeway
Federal Trade Commission (FTC); Internal Revenue System (IRS); The White House; US Department of Commerce; US Department of Justice; US Patent & Trademark Office
Johns Hopkins Medicine; LabCorp; Mayo Clinic; Quest Diagnostics; WebMD
ABC News; CNN; Fox News; MSNBC; NY Times; Wall Street Journal; Washington Post
Ask.com; Bing; Google; Yahoo
Amazon; Barnes & Noble; LL Bean; Sears; Starbucks; Target; Wal-mart (a new policy will go into effect Aug. 23, 2009 – the link points to a series of privacy policies available through Wal-mart)
SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES
Facebook; LinkedIn; MySpace; Twitter
USER-GENERATED CONTENT (Photos, Videos)
Kodak EasyShare; Shutterfly; Snapfish; YouTube; Zazzle
FOREIGN SITES (with different legal requirements)
Agence-France Presse; BBC (see also Targeted Advertising Update (for users outside the UK only); The Economist; The Financial Times; World Intellectual Property Organization
* Note: By posting links to the privacy policies of the web sites identified above, I am not making any representations or endorsements about the value of the products or services provided by these sites or about the validity or enforceability of their privacy policies. These links were chosen somewhat randomly and are intended to serve as examples to show various ways to explain a site’s treatment of data collected from its visitors.