TRUSTe and Haute Secure: Business is business (and there’s nothing wrong with that)

April 21, 2009

I’ve been very interested in TRUSTe’s acquisition of Haute Secure, which provided a much loved browser add-on to warn users of potential malware and other risks as they travel to websites.  So today’s post on the TRUSTe blog got my attention:

Haute Secure does a marvelous job protecting the user from malicious content out on the Internet – of that there is no doubt – but the toolbar was only able to protect the end user if they downloaded and installed software on their computer, and that put a finite limit on its effectiveness. By focusing its efforts on its offering for web sites that are at risk of being used as an avenue to infect computers, Haute Secure will be able protect *every single visitor* to any web site that chooses to take advantage of TRUSTE’s new security scanning, reputation services and anti-malware protection offerings without the end user having to do anything to get the benefit of that protection.

via TRUSTe Blog » Reflections of a HauteSecure Toolbar Early Adopter.

In other words, no more toolbar — consumers are only protected from malware on sites that subscribe through TRUSTe.

I don’t disagree with the business decision that was made here — after all, TRUSTe’s business model is to sell to websites, not necessarily to provide free services to consumers. Maintaining a consumer facing service is expensive, so a rational business-person would need to conclude that the ROI of the consumer toolbar is sufficient when it comes to sales of monitoring to websites. Apparently, the numbers just didn’t add up (and we’re in a recession, after all).

What I would expect from TRUSTe is perhaps a clearer acknowledgment that, with TRUSTe’s transition from non-profit dot-org to venture-backed, for-profit company, they will be making business decisions like this.  The idea expressed in the post, that the decision was about how to protect people best, strikes me as disingenuous.  The fact is, the worst malware providers won’t be TRUSTe customers and protection from those will now be lost.

Make no mistake — I’m excited about TRUSTe’s for-profit transition because I like to think that for-profit enterprises can often help solve public problems. But there’s no reason we can’t be transparent about motivations.

PS What’s up with not allowing comments on the TRUSTe blog? 

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