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Trustworthy Sites Are Worth A Mint

Trustworthy Sites Are Worth A Mint

Mint\'s login screen

    The internet is full of lies. Without plenty of effort, you can’t even prove my name is Thursday Bram. So why should you hand over your bank account numbers, passwords and other financial data to me?

    That’s essentially what Mint and other money management sites are asking you to do. These companies have many benefits for those of us focused on productivity and, for some of us, those benefits have outweighed our healthy senses of paranoia. I’m not saying that money management companies are all out to get us (and some of them are actually very good), but it’s worth taking a very close look at what sites you trust.

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    I realize it may not seem fair to be so suspicious — after all, these sites never did anything to me. But pretty much everything on the internet is a matter of trust. Consider Mint’s “Privacy & Security” page: in 20 minutes I could have an identical page up on my site. Merely posting a page isn’t enough to win my trust — although the information Mint has posted is very convincing.

    What is enough to win my trust?

    I think a video of Bruce Schneier pronouncing a site’s trustworthiness would be enough to convince me — but only because I already trust Schneier as an expert on security.

    Beyond that, it’s a matter of finding some very specific facts that will help me to decide on whether to trust a given site.

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    Where is a company based?

    Most folks running websites have the best of intentions. The country they’ve set up their servers in, though, can have some extensive effects on who gets to see your information simply by asking. In the U.S., there are certain laws meant to prevent companies from passing around your private information. But in more controlled societies — think China — certain government officials can access secure information with no intermediary steps.

    Knowing location is also important in case something goes wrong. I know I’d rather use a money management site based in my own country in the event that they did distribute it to someone with nefarious plans. At least, in that case, I could take the company to court.

    What does the privacy policy say — and is it enforceable?

    Who reads all those user agreements and terms of use anyhow? Isn’t that just a box to click through so you can start playing with the nice shiny web application? Mint devoted a major chunk of its terms of use to discussing a comprehensive privacy policy.

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    Reading this policy is a fairly good indicator of Mint’s trustworthiness — and therefore its success as a money management application. The key is the inclusion of a way to address security issues through a third party organization with a reputation for trustworthiness. It’s easy to scoff at using such third party organizations, and listing links to their sites on your own, but those seals are actually a good indicator, if you can confirm that they are correctly displayed.

    Mint’s partnership with TRUSTe is a great example. TRUSTe has been around since 1997 and was founded by, among others, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. That sort of history and such well-known associates make for a good indicator of trust.

    What are other people saying about the company in question?

    Beyond fancy logos, though, a real indicator of whether a website is worth trusting is the buzz around the web. Just Googling a site’s name can get you a whole load of information, though you might consider adding words like ‘security’ in your search. A surprising number of people don’t do even this basic level of research before handing over details like the password to their email — I can name a half dozen social networking sites that ask for exactly that in order to import your contacts. It’s nice that we have such an environment of trust online, but we’re just asking for problems when we give away such information willy-nilly.

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    Such due diligence can be enough to warn you off of releasing your information, though. At the very least, it can give you a head’s up of security issues that might make you want to wait before signing up for a service.

    Unfortunately, buzz doesn’t always help early adopters. If you’re always the first person into the private beta, you may not have heard about any bugs or problems that a company has experienced, let alone if other people have some questions about trust.

    How much time should I spend on research?

    I don’t necessarily delve into the technical security specs of every site I sign up for, and I wouldn’t even argue that there is a need to. But before handing over information like your bank account numbers — or the password to the email account where you’ve saved those numbers — it’s worth spending 15 or 30 minutes to make sure that your sensitive information isn’t going to take a walk after you’ve entered it.

    After this sort of review, Mint has all the elements of a reliable site. They’re able to earn trust, rather than rely on people looking for a quick fix and ignoring a few warning signs. Yes, Mint solves some significant productivity and money management questions, but it does so in such a way as to reassure users.

    I do still have a few concerns, of course. Any site known to save financial information on numerous people is going to be a target of all sorts of malicious attacks. And no site is going to take users on a walk through of the exact protections and vulnerabilities of their system. Aaron Patzer, Mint’s CEO, has discussed the site’s security on several occasions, and in general, it seems like information submitted to the site is fairly secure. I’m willing to roll the dice and take a chance on Mint — especially since none of the early adopters have gotten burned yet.

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    Last Updated on May 14, 2019

    8 Replacements for Google Notebook

    8 Replacements for Google Notebook

    Exploring alternatives to Google Notebook? There are more than a few ‘notebooks’ available online these days, although choosing the right one will likely depend on just what you use Google Notebook for.

    1. Zoho Notebook
      If you want to stick with something as close to Google Notebook as possible, Zoho Notebook may just be your best bet. The user interface has some significant changes, but in general, Zoho Notebook has pretty similar features. There is even a Firefox plugin that allows you to highlight content and drop it into your Notebook. You can go a bit further, though, dropping in any spreadsheets or documents you have in Zoho, as well as some applications and all websites — to the point that you can control a desktop remotely if you pare it with something like Zoho Meeting.
    2. Evernote
      The features that Evernote brings to the table are pretty great. In addition to allowing you to capture parts of a website, Evernote has a desktop search tool mobil versions (iPhone and Windows Mobile). It even has an API, if you’ve got any features in mind not currently available. Evernote offers 40 MB for free accounts — if you’ll need more, the premium version is priced at $5 per month or $45 per year. Encryption, size and whether you’ll see ads seem to be the main differences between the free and premium versions.
    3. Net Notes
      If the major allure for Google Notebooks lays in the Firefox extension, Net Notes might be a good alternative. It’s a Firefox extension that allows you to save notes on websites in your bookmarks. You can toggle the Net Notes sidebar and access your notes as you browse. You can also tag websites. Net Notes works with Mozilla Weave if you need to access your notes from multiple computers.
    4. i-Lighter
      You can highlight and save information from any website while you’re browsing with i-Lighter. You can also add notes to your i-Lighted information, as well as email it or send the information to be posted to your blog or Twitter account. Your notes are saved in a notebook on your computer — but they’re also synchronized to the iLighter website. You can log in to the site from any computer.
    5. Clipmarks
      For those browsers interested in sharing what they find with others, Clipmarks provides a tool to select clips of text, images and video and share them with friends. You can easily syndicate your finds to a whole list of sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Digg. You can also easily review your past clips and use them as references through Clipmarks’ website.
    6. UberNote
      If you can think of a way to send notes to UberNote, it can handle it. You can clip material while browsing, email, IM, text message or even visit the UberNote sites to add notes to the information you have saved. You can organize your notes, tag them and even add checkboxes if you want to turn a note into some sort of task list. You can drag and drop information between notes in order to manage them.
    7. iLeonardo
      iLeonardo treats research as a social concern. You can create a notebook on iLeonardo on a particular topic, collecting information online. You can also access other people’s notebooks. It may not necessarily take the place of Google Notebook — I’m pretty sure my notes on some subjects are cryptic — but it’s a pretty cool tool. You can keep notebooks private if you like the interface but don’t want to share a particular project. iLeonardo does allow you to follow fellow notetakers and receive the information they find on a particular topic.
    8. Zotero
      Another Firefox extension, Zotero started life as a citation management tool targeted towards academic researchers. However, it offers notetaking tools, as well as a way to save files to your notebook. If you do a lot of writing in Microsoft Word or Open Office, Zotero might be the tool for you — it’s integrated with both word processing software to allow you to easily move your notes over, as well as several blogging options. Zotero’s interface is also available in more than 30 languages.

    I’ve been relying on Google Notebook as a catch-all for blog post ideas — being able to just highlight information and save it is a great tool for a blogger.

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    In replacing it, though, I’m starting to lean towards Evernote. I’ve found it handles pretty much everything I want, especially with the voice recording feature. I’m planning to keep trying things out for a while yet — I’m sticking with Google Notebook until the Firefox extension quits working — and if you have any recommendations that I missed when I put together this list, I’d love to hear them — just leave a comment!

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