Survey: Microsoft Ranks 17th in Customer Privacy

Microsoft, HP and IBM were ranked among the top 20 companies U.S. consumers trust most with their privacy in a recent Ponemon Institute study.

Ponemon's "2012 Most Trusted Companies for Privacy" survey (PDF), conducted over 15 weeks ending in December, gathered data from 6,704 respondents who were asked to name up to five companies in 25 industries that they believe to be the most trustworthy in terms of protecting their personal information. They were also asked to name up to five companies they considered the least trustworthy.

When naming companies, respondents were asked to consider their level of belief that "the company is honoring its privacy commitments to you and keeping your personal information safe and secure. This includes its commitment not to share your personal information unless there is a just cause or you have given your consent." Ponemon then scored the named companies based on the number of positive and negative responses for each and the number of first-place rankings.

By Ponemon's metric, the company found most trustworthy was American Express, which has ranked first in Ponemon's study since 2007. The highest-ranked tech company was Hewlett-Packard in the No. 2 position, same as in the previous year's survey. Following are the technology companies that made it to Ponemon's top 20:

  • Hewlett-Packard (No. 2)
  • (No. 3)
  • IBM (No. 4)
  • eBay (No. 9)
  • Microsoft (No. 17)
  • Mozilla (No. 20)

Microsoft and Mozilla are both new to the top 20, having been unranked in previous years.

Notably missing from the top 20 are Apple and Google. Apple had been ranked as high as 8th in 2009, before slipping to the 12th and 14th positions in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Google's highest ranking in the survey's history was 10th, a position it held in 2007 and 2008, though it fell to the 19th spot in 2011. Interestingly, both Google and Apple consistently perform well in Harris Interactive's annual corporate reputation survey; however, that survey does not specifically measure for trustworthiness regarding privacy.

Other companies that missed the top 20 are Facebook, Yahoo, Dell and AOL.

Overall, the technology and software industry fared well in Ponemon's survey; respondents ranked it the 6th most-trustworthy industry, behind health care (No. 1), consumer products (No. 2), banking (No. 3), logistics (No. 4) and communications (No. 5). By contrast, Internet and social media companies were ranked the least-trustworthy as a category. Nearly 60 percent of survey respondents cited "disruptive technologies" like social media and the prevalence of smartphones and mobile devices as a detriment to their privacy rights.

The survey's other findings include:

  • Identity protection was ranked as the most pressing privacy issue by 61 percent of respondents.

  • Nearly half of all respondents said they have been notified of at least one information breach over the past year, causing many to lose trust in the companies involved.

  • Just over a third of respondents believe they have control over their personal data. However, nearly two-thirds of respondents admitted to sharing that data with unknown businesses.

"We believe this research provides an unambiguous measure of how consumers perceive the privacy and personal data protection practices of specific organizations," Ponemon said. However, the firm offers this caveat about how well the survey represents companies' actual privacy practices:

"Based on previous consumer studies, we have found that consumer perceptions about privacy can be influenced by a number of extraneous factors. In fact, 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. Further, what a company does in the area of privacy and data protection can be invisible to the consumer until he or she experiences a problem and seeks redress or has a question about the organization's privacy and data protection practices that needs to be answered."

About the Author

Gladys Rama is the senior site producer for, and


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