Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), eBay (EBAY) and Intuit (INTU) rank among the top 10 companies nationally for protecting personal privacy, according to an annual consumer survey released Monday that also found most respondents feared their privacy rights are being diminished by social media and other technology.

Hewlett-Packard was deemed the second-most trusted company for protecting privacy behind American Express in the study by the Ponemon Institute.
Hewlett-Packard was deemed the second-most trusted company for protecting privacy behind American Express in the study by the Ponemon Institute. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/Files (DENIS BALIBOUSE)

HP was deemed the second most trusted company for protecting privacy behind American Express in the study by the Ponemon Institute, which has conducted the survey annually since 2006. The 6,704 U.S. adults responding to the survey also ranked eBay ninth and Intuit 10th.

HP and eBay have consistently ranked in the top 10 in every year of the study, except 2008, when HP placed 16th. Intuit, which also ranked 10th last year, generally has been in the top 20 in recent years.

Two other Bay Area companies ranking high were Visa, in 18th place, and Mozilla, which was number 20.


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However, the report cautioned that it has found "consumer perceptions about privacy can be influenced by a number of extraneous factors." Consequently, it said, "the ratings may not reflect at all the actual privacy practices of the company and its efforts to protect the personal information of its customers and employees." Factors that can include such perceptions include the company's products, advertising and the media coverage they receive, it said.

The study by the Michigan-based Ponemon Institute, which conducts independent research on privacy and data protection issues, also found consumers feeling increasingly vulnerable about their personal information.

  • Fifty-nine percent said they believe their privacy rights are being diminished by social media, smart mobile devices and "geo-tracking tools," and 55 percent said those rights have been diminished by "government intrusions."

  • Forty-nine percent said they had gotten one or more notifications that their personal data had been breached during the previous 24 months.

  • Only 35 percent said they believe they have control over their personal information.

  • Asked their top privacy concern, 61 percent cited identity theft and 56 percent said "government surveillance."

  • Less than one third of the respondents acknowledged paying attention to the privacy policies of companies or other organizations they deal with, mostly because "these policies are too long or contain too much legalese."

    That so many respondents expressed such worries didn't surprise Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy of the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego. Since 2005, when his organization began tracking the subject, he said, "we have found that almost 607 million records have been breached." That includes Social Security numbers and medical information, but not less serious privacy violations, such as email addresses that were inappropriately accessed.

    "It is truly a growing problem," Stephens said. "The numbers are absolutely staggering and unfortunately it does not seem many companies are taking data breaches very seriously."

    The concern is shared by Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington.

    "We think the privacy system in the United States, such as it is, simply isn't working," he said. "Consumers sense that they are on their own and run a risk every time they visit a website, download an app or do an Internet search.

    Contact Steve Johnson at sjohnson@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5043. Follow him at Twitter.com/steveatmercnews.

    Most trusted firms for guarding privacy

    1. American Express
    2. Hewlett-Packard
    3, Amazon
    4. IBM
    5. U.S. Postal Service
    6. Procter & Gamble
    7. USAA (United Services Automobile Association)
    8. Nationwide
    9. eBay
    10. Intuit
    Source: Ponemon Institute consumer survey