IBM Best in Privacy Among Tech Firms

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When it comes to protecting personal information, IBM is the top dog among technology companies, according to the latest customer survey by security researcher Ponemon Institute.

Among all industries, IBM (NYSE: IBM) ranks second only to American Express (NYSE: AXP) and ahead of HP (NYSE: HPQ), No. 4 overall, and eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY), which checked in at No. 5.

The Traverse City, Mich.-based researchers said the rankings were derived from responses given by 6,627 U.S. adults that included more than 38,000 individual company ratings, 229 of which were mentioned at least 20 times.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and AT&T (NYSE: T) were among the new brands that made this year's top 20 after failing to make the list last year. Meanwhile, Facebook dropped off the list after the social networking site endured a series of serious security breaches and malware issues throughout 2009, as well as the ongoing controversies that have attended several rounds of changes to the site's information-collection policies.

"2009 was a tumultuous year for privacy, as illustrated by Facebook’s drop out of the top 20 in a year when they found themselves at the center of a very public debate over the evolution of their privacy policies and settings," Larry Ponemon, the Ponemon Institute's chairman and founder, said in the report.

"Facebook draws a great deal of attention because they have chosen to innovate on the issue of privacy in a highly visible manner, and while they were rewarded for their efforts last year, consumers were less kind to them this year, showing just how important privacy protection is as a brand asset," he added.

One of the most popular, if overplayed, quotes in the IT industry is that "no one ever got fired for buying IBM." Apparently the same holds for its brand, as well as its reputation for protecting customer data.

Last year, IBM checked in at No. 3 on the "most trusted" list, behind American Express and eBay, respectively.

"We are honored to be recognized by consumers as the most trusted business-to-business company in Ponemon Institute's survey," Harriet Pearson, IBM's chief privacy officer, said in a statement.

"As data rapidly moves from the desktop to the cloud, consumers are more aware and concerned than ever about the security and privacy of their personal and sensitive information," she added.

To that end, IBM last summer debuted a new method for manipulating encrypted data to ward off prying eyes and spam in cloud-computing environments.

The Ponemon study also found that only 41 percent of consumers feel they have control over their personal information, down from 45 percent in 2009 and way off the 2006 mark of 56 percent.

Identity theft is the top area of concern among consumers, as 59 percent of respondents said it was a major factor in terms of rating a brand's overall trust. Another 50 percent said notice of a data breach was a significant reason to lose faith in a company's ability to protect consumer data.

"The security of personal information is more important than ever to consumers and brand trust is closely associated with whether or not individuals believe that a company can provide privacy protection," Ponemon said.

Among other technology firms to make the top 20 on the Ponemon list were Amazon.com (No. 8), Intuit (No. 11), Apple (No. 12) and Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) (No. 17).

Larry Barrett is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.