Seal of online privacy

Sometimes, the Internet seems like an endless questionnaire. One Web site wants to know your birth date and income. Another won't let you log in until you type in your mother's maiden name.

The best sites promise up-front not to give out such personal data without your permission.

But is that what they actually do?

Last week the Better Business Bureau launched a new BBBOnline privacy seal aimed at answering just that. Although the privacy policies themselves vary, the seal certifies that companies treat personal data the way they say they do. As a minimum, online companies have an opt-out clause for people who don't want their information sold to other marketers.

"Businesses are starting to recognize that this is a high-level consumer concern," says Russ Bodoff, chief operating officer of BBBOnline (www.bbbonline.com).

To make sure a Web site won't sell your mother's maiden name to the highest bidder, check out its privacy policy. If it has the Better Business Bureau seal, so much the better. If it doesn't post a privacy policy at all, surf on by.

Mom will thank you.

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