Monday, July 18, 2005

Privacy--not the same to everyone

The Gramm-Leach Bliley Act, also known as the Financial Modernization Act of 1999 includes provisions to protect the personal information that is gathered by financial institutions about their customers. The Act requires that institutions give customers privacy notices that explain collection and sharing practices. In turn, customers have the right to limit the sharing of some information.

In yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle, David Lazarus takes a look into Fidelity Investment's privacy policy.
Deep in Fidelity's privacy policy, the company finally makes this disclosure: "If you interact with Fidelity directly as an individual investor, we may exchange information about you, as described above, with our affiliates to offer Fidelity products and services.

"We may also share this individual investor information, under joint marketing agreements with non-affiliated, financial services business partners to offer discounts or other special access to products and services."

What info are we talking about? The policy says it could include your name, address, Social Security number, birth date, assets, income, trading history and even "discussions with our customer service staff."
All this might not be so bad if a customer was easily able to "opt out" of participating in the information sharing, but Fidelity's policy to do this is not clear and a spokesperson that Lazarus spoke to wasn't much help either.

Lazarus continues by examining the privacy policy of one of Fidelity's chief rivals, San Francisco based Charles Schwab.
The San Francisco discount broker is including a form titled "Important Privacy Choice" in customers' latest statements. "You have the right to control whether we share some of your personal information," it prominently declares.
The firm's privacy policy, meanwhile, clearly states that customers "may instruct us not to share information about you with outside companies for joint marketing purposes," and also says how this can be done.
Take the time to read the privacy policies of the financial institutions that you deal with and understand what information they share and who they share it with. Clearly, not all institutions take the same approach.

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