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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 September 10, 2019

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

    By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

    Effective Prioritization

    There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

    Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

    The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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    Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

    Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

    If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

    Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

    My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

    I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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    Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

    But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

    The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

    I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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    That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

    You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

    My point is:

    The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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    What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

    And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

    If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

    More About Prioritization & Time Management

    Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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