Internet users 'at risk' from poor Web sites

Consumer International claims that many health, finance and price-comparison Web sites are guilty of a wide range of dodgy practices

Many Web sites are putting surfers at risk by providing information that is inaccurate and misleading, research published on Monday claimed.

Consumers International -- which is made up of over 250 consumer organisations including the UK's Consumer' Association -- has conducted a global survey of online content, and warns that many health, finance and price-comparison Web sites are guilty of a wide range of bad practices.

According to Consumers International, 49 percent of health and financial sites fail to give appropriate warnings, such as advising people to consult a professional before acting on their advice.

Consumers International also warns that around half of medical and financial Web sites also neglect to give full information about the people who provide their advice, leaving consumers in the dark about the reliability of their information.

"The results of this research are particularly alarming when you consider that the majority of consumers using the web are relying on it for credible information they can trust," said Anna Fielder, director for Consumers International's Office for Developed and Transition Economies, in a statement.

"Consumers are being put at risk by misleading, inaccurate and incomplete information, for example, where they need to seek health or financial help. There is an urgent need for consumers to be alerted to this matter," Fielder added.

Consumers International's survey also claims that a mere 41 percent of sites that recommend products give sources for their prices, and 60 percent of the Web sites it examined fail to indicate whether their content is influenced by their commercial partners, sponsors or advertisers.

Sites that fail to provide such information are letting down their users, according to the Consumer Association.

"Credibility depends on basic things like providing contact details and disclosing commercial relationships. This study demonstrates that many websites fail to inspire consumer confidence by failing to follow best practice" said Alan Williams of the Consumers' Association.

Consumers International recommends that consumers check a Web site's background before making any decisions based on its content. In particular, it advises that users are sceptical of any site that doesn't have an "about us" section containing information such as a site's postal address, its ownership, and details of any partners and sponsors.

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