A privacy seal is a graphic on a website which is intended to inform visitors that the site adheres with the standards of the issuing organization. TRUSTe and VeriSign are two examples of organizations which offer privacy seals, with VeriSign also handling establishment of secured communications for the sites it works with. The value of a privacy seal is dependent on several different factors which should be considered when one sees a privacy seal prominently displayed on a website.
In some cases, an issuing organization may audit a website to confirm that it meets their standards, or ask for supporting documentation so that the site can demonstrate that it fulfills a set of requirements. Other organizations do not necessarily do this, expecting people who display their seals to police themselves. Consumers who are curious about what a privacy seal really means should be able to click the seal and get information, including information about how sites get the seal.
Seals are also supposed to imply that a site has a robust security architecture which reduces the risk of stolen or misappropriated data. Details about the system may not be available for security reasons, but the site should be able to demonstrate some basic security measures such as using encryption for personal information. Some web browsers display a small privacy seal in the status bar when people are logged in to an encrypted area so that they can confirm that the site is using encryption.
Consumers should be aware that because privacy seals are viewed as a sign that a site is trustworthy, unscrupulous site operators may forge or fake privacy seals to trick people. It is a good idea to get in the habit of checking the status bar to confirm that one is on the right website before sharing personal information. If you are not sure about whether or not a privacy seal is authentic, go to the website maintained by the issuing organization; most of these organizations allow people to perform a search to verify that a site really is listed with that organization.