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The Online Trust Alliance on Tuesday released its 2017 Online Trust Audit & Honor Roll.

Among its findings: Consumer services sites have the best combined security and privacy practices.

FDIC 100 banks and U.S. government sites are the least trustworthy, according to the audit.

The number of websites that qualified for the Honor Roll reached a nine-year high. However, the audit identified an alarming three-year trend: Increasingly, sites either take privacy and security seriously and do well in the audit, or they lag behind the industry significantly in one or more critical areas.

The Online Trust Alliance is an Internet Society initiative to promote best practices for online trust. Its goal is to set standards for recognizing excellence in online consumer protection, data security and responsible privacy practices.

Researchers analyzed about 1,000 predominantly consumer-facing websites for site and email security, as well as privacy practices.

Fifty-two percent of analyzed websites qualified for the Honor Roll, a 5 percent improvement over 2016.

“Data is the ‘oil’ of the Internet economy. It is fueling innovation, growth and revenue. At the same time, if abused there is a risk of data spills, negatively impacting user expectations and ultimately the Internet at large,” said OTA Chairman Emeritus Craig Spiezle, founder of the group. “The OTA Trust Audit & Honor Roll underscores the urgency to embrace responsible security and privacy practices. Failure risks a long-term impact to the Internet.”

Consumer Trust Challenges

The annual OTA audits provide a valuable service, especially given the growing number and extremity of online threats, noted Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

However, it is not very likely the report will help fix what hampers e-commerce today, he said.

“One of the biggest challenges of addressing online threats is the sheer complexity of the markets, organizations and individuals affected. That is more than any single survey or organization can fix,” King told LinuxInsider. “The report is cautionary but lacks gravity outside of OTA members.”

The decline in government website rankings could be a fly in the ointment. This year’s sudden poor showing for U.S. government sites could have a negative impact on consumer trust.

Lack of continuity is detrimental to consumers and businesses alike, noted King.

“An ongoing problem with public sector sites is the radical shift in expectations and processes when power changes from one party to another,” he said. “We’re seeing that now, as the current administration takes apart regulations and best practices put in place by the past administration.”

Top 3 Performers

The audit tallied the percentage of websites making the Honor Roll in six categories:

  • Consumer Services — 76 percent. This industry held onto its ranking as the best performing on the Honor Roll. This segment accounted for 26 of the top 50 consumer-facing sites, or 52 percent.
  • Internet Retailers — 51 percent. Half of the top 500 Internet retailers made the Honor Roll this year, representing a big improvement over last year’s score of 44 percent. This segment accounted for 10 of the top 50 consumer-facing sites, or 20 percent.
  • News and Media — 48 percent. This marks the most significant improvement over the previous year, across all industries. Last year, media and news sites polled as the worst-performing sector, with only 23 percent making the Honor Roll. This segment accounted for three of the top consumer-facing 50…