Web Waivers Make Online Buyers Responsible

Beginning this week, News 12 will try to help you realize the benefits of technology, while avoiding some built-in dangers. In our first "Technically Speaking" report, we warn that you could be responsible, if your financial identity is stolen, because of something called "web waivers".

Lisa Kozarovich practically lives on the internet. "I buy airline tickets; I book hotels; I pay bills. I do just a little bit of everything online." So, she was furious when she learned about new online liability waivers.  Basically, they free companies from any responsibility if a hacker lifts your personal or financial information and uses it to buy things, or even steal your identity. "I was really surprised to hear that."

The waivers come in many forms - "use this site at your own risk!" - "perfect security does not exist on the internet." or "the company will not be liable for damages of any kind arising from use of its site". Beth Givens, of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse warns, "they're basically saying, 'hey, we're not accountable, um, and you can't sue us.' and, 'gee, bad things might happen to your data but don't blame us.'"  Givens is outraged by these waivers. She says they allow companies to protect themselves from litigation while leaving you vulnerable. "Without being held accountable, they could just sit back, relax and not take those extra steps to safeguard the data."

Attorney Charles Kennedy represents many online companies. He writes liability waivers and advises his clients to use them. "The way these waivers protect a company is that if someone at the ftc is looking for a hook to say, 'you're making promises you're not keeping,' they won't find any such promises."

But the F-T-C's Howard Beales says companies have certain responsibilities, no matter what.  "Putting in a waiver, though, isn't going to keep us away because, if companies don't take reasonable steps to protect sensitive information, uh, we think that's likely to be a violation of the ftc acts."

Consumers need to take reasonable steps, too, by reading the waivers. They're usually tucked away in the privacy or 'terms of use' policies - policies we accept every time we do business online!

The waivers used in our story, came from Amazon.com, E-bay, Ticketmaster, American Airlines, and Verizon Wireless. Our "Technically Speaking" reports, will air every Thursday morning, on ArkLaTex This Morning.