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The Web Vs. The Real World: Who Do You Trust?

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There are some questions in life that just shouldn’t be asked, and if someone does ask them, should be ignored or answered with great trepidation–at least if the responder values his or her health and/or reputation.

Examples that come to mind are things like: “Honey, what do you think of this dress?” “Honey, do I look fat in this dress?” and “Dahling, where did your husband get that fabulous new dress he’s wearing?”

Some 50 years ago, a quiz show on CBS television asked married men such a question–one with potentially disastrous consequences for a wrong answer–”Do You Trust Your Wife?” On the show, the husband and wife were contestants and the husband had to decide whether or not he trusted his wife to answer the question (and win the money), or if he would answer it himself.

Now I’m not old enough to remember this show, but I would bet there were some red-faced husbands and indignant wives walking out of that studio at the program’s conclusion. Given the fact that so many marital arguments are about money, one has to wonder whether some marriages were damaged or broken by the “trust” decisions made on that show.

So, why have I led you down this rabbit trail? The reason is that who you trust can have a significant impact on your business, and on your life as a whole. To wit, I have recently been toying with a new service offering, , which basically allows individuals and small businesses to store their vital information in a virtual lock box on the Internet.

According to Brandon, Miss.-based 2020 Innovations, LLC, the service uses the World Wide Web “as a critical emergency tool to help people through a natural disaster, evacuation, network failure, identity theft, fire, robbery, death, and other potentially devastating situations.” The company suggests that users could store crucial information, such as medical records, credit card and bank account numbers, Internet passwords, birth certificate data, Social Security and driver’s license numbers “all in one secure place.”

So if you are a user, you are being asked to trust the company and the Web itself to keep your vital information safe. But if you’ve been paying any attention at all to this column, you know that cyberspace is anything but a secure place. What reassurance can the company give that your information won’t be compromised by the host of threats that daily assault computer systems via the Internet?

“We won’t [get hacked],” says Gerry Printz, president and CEO of 2020 Innovations, explaining that the data is stored behind firewalls and is encrypted with “a very difficult algorithm to crack.” That sounds good, but firewalls can be beaten and keystrokes can be stolen to reveal passwords and log-in information. One helpful feature is that 2020 does not know its users’ passwords (thus if one forgets a password, one must start over and lose access to the information saved). Still the threat remains, and the company has neatly insulated itself from trouble by stating that it is not responsible if someone manages to steal your ID or password and access the critical information.

Wouldn’t you be better off just putting your vital information in a real lock box in a bank vault somewhere? Of course, there are ways the information could be stolen there as well, but most criminals don’t break into bank lock boxes looking for your Social Security number, your company data or your medical records (at least not yet).

Here’s where the “trust” question comes in. Do you trust the Web and the considerable technology defenses of the company to protect your critical information, or do you trust the hard steel of the lock box and the near impenetrable bank vault? Seems like a no-brainer, even if the bank doesn’t offer you the same quick access that would be afforded electronically with

I’m not ready to totally give up on the virtual lock box idea, however. The key is how an individual or company uses the service. Printz suggests that those in doubt about the safety of their information might want to put some information in the online lock box–just enough to help in case of an emergency, but not enough to give a cyber-criminal access to your entire life or business.

It’s worth a shot to try the free version of the service that can be accessed online at . You may find that the service is not the answer for you, but judicious and wise use of may have its advantages where speedy access to vital information is required. Again, the point is to be intelligent about the way you use what is offered–and about the extent to which you trust the Web.

By the way, did I mention that the host of that 1950s quiz show was ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy sidekick Charlie McCarthy? Somehow that seems fitting for a program that invited contestants to make potentially dumb decisions. Fortunately, most of you have not been chiseled out of a tree trunk, and you will no doubt make much wiser choices.