Privacy Seals are a Web Requirement

When programs like AICPA's WebTrust were first announced, many CPAs were skeptical that they could make money ensuring privacy and security among Web site clients. Today, however, times have changed, and more and more Web sites are tapping firms and companies that offer programs like WebTrust, as well as home-grown, yet authoritative brands of privacy seals.

Expedia Travel, for example, is an example of such a trend. They employed the audit services of PricewaterhouseCoopers to acquire the firm's BetterWeb privacy seal. The cost of these services was $15,000.

With privacy seals, PwC, Ernst & Young and other firms who offer similar services compete with non-accounting companies like the Better Business Bureau and Truste, but in only a limited sense. These other non-accounting based programs base their privacy seal on the disclosures provided on a Web site rather than backing up the seal with an audit and large firm assurance.

Internet companies are starting to feel the heat from Congress to beef up their privacy standards. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act requires financial service companies to comply with new, more stringent privacy regulations by July 2001. PricewaterhouseCoopers released a report in August stating that two-thirds of Web sites operated by the nation's 50 largest banks do not comply with this act.

In Expedia's case, the online travel company rewrote its privacy policy as a result of the PwC privacy audit. Customers can rely on the backing of the PwC auditor that their transactions and personal information will remain confidential.

It would appear that the privacy consulting practice is a fast-growing area of the new economy that auditing firms can look to as a new revenue source.

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