Study Rips Financial Web Sites' Privacy

Article excerpt

Byline: William Glanz

Online banking and mortgage brokerage firms give consumers little control over how they use the personal data customers submit to Web sites, according to a new study.

Some financial Web sites also fail to include information about their privacy practices, the Center For Democracy and Technology said in its study, released yesterday.

The privacy group is threatening to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission because of that apparent violation of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act, said Ari Schwartz, the group's associate director.

The center says it is too hard for consumers to prevent financial Web sites from disclosing personal data with affiliates - companies co-owned by a bank's parent company - or with outside firms like marketing companies.

Only 22 of 100 Web sites surveyed by the privacy-advocacy group give consumers convenient, adequate privacy measures, the study said.

The study is relevant because an estimated 24 million consumers have done some banking online, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a nonprofit research initiative in the District.

Banks, too, have embraced the Web. About 80 percent of all major U.S. banks let customers do some banking online, said Jim Bruene, editor of the industry newsletter the Online Banking Report, based in Seattle.

Consumers can prohibit all financial institutions from sharing information with companies that aren't owned by the same corporation that owns the bank where they do business, under the terms of Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act, in effect since July 1. They do that by making use of an opt-out provision. Unless consumers opt out, though, financial-services companies can share data.

Financial Web sites should make it easier for consumers to opt out of information-sharing practices so consumers don't end up on marketing lists, Mr. …