A Harris Poll found that a six in ten majority (59 percent) are not comfortable when websites like Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft (MSN) use information about a person's online activity to tailor advertisements or content based on a person's hobbies or interests [Harris Interactive, 2008]. Supporting data comes from a TRUSTe survey, which found that 57 percent of respondents say they are not comfortable with advertisers using their browsing history to serve relevant ads, even when that information cannot be tied to their names or any other personal information [TRUSTe, 2009].
The report goes on to say: "Surveys from academic research also show high levels of concern. Papers from the Annenberg Public Policy Center suggest an increase in concern: in 2003, 70 percent of respondents agreed or agreed strongly with the statement: "I am nervous about websites having information about me." In 2005, the same response was reported by 79 percent of respondents" [Turow, et al., 2006].
Pew Internet also shows key facts supporting the same findings! According to a section on User Expectations: "The Pew Internet and American Life Project asked participants the following question: If an Internet company did track the pages you went to while online, do you think that would be ... helpful because the company can provide you with information that matches your interests or harmful because it invades your privacy? This question is interesting, as tracking could be both helpful and harmful. When asked to choose between the two words, the majority of users said tracking was harmful, though a few insisted it was either both or neither: 27 percent Helpful, 54 percent Harmful, 11 percent Both (vol.), 4 percent Neither (vol.), 4 percent Don't know/Refused" [Pew, 2000].
Users Want More Control Over Personal Information
These surveys also show that users wish to have greater control over how their information is collected and for what purposes it may be used. The Pew Internet & American Life Project asked survey participants about the importance of controlling who has access to your personal information. Eighty-five percent responded that it was very important, and 9 percent said it was somewhat important [Pew, 2006].
Microsoft's Director of Privacy Strategy wrote, "Privacy policies are usually more nuanced than such categorized analysis allows for. For example, it is indicated that we do not provide data to third parties. This is most often the case, but there is a case where, with the opt-in consent of the customer, we do provide data such as an email address to third parties for marketing purposes. I can think of a number of other examples of where the yes/no analysis results in both a conditional 'yes' and a conditional 'no.' Therefore, I worry that the conclusions, if published as they are, will be misleading."
Website operators should reevaluate a common practice we discovered: claiming that they do not share information with third parties, but allow third-party trackers. We think that these statements are inherently contradictory. A practice is deceptive for purposes of the Federal Trade Commission Act if it involves a material representation, omission, or practice that is likely to mislead a consumer acting reasonably in the circumstances, to the consumer's detriment [FTC 1983]. The conflicting statements in the privacy policies would most likely confuse or mislead a reasonable consumer. The confusion would also likely be to their detriment, as surveys indicate that users do not want companies to collect data about them without permission. Deception is a legal term, and we do not claim that these practices necessarily meet the standard. However, to the extent that website operators wish to avoid stricter regulations, they should pay more attention to practices that may even appear to be deceptive.
Download The KnowPrivacy Report / Get A Free Website Analysis
The KnowPrivacy Report suggests that the biggest concern among the complaints we coded was the lack of control. Users do not want websites to collect or share data without permission, and they want the ability to access, edit, and delete records about themselves.
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Ken Freeman is a professional web and social media consultant. He has served pregnancy resource centers with marketing, advertising, web design, hosting, social media orchestration, and optimization support. Contact Ken Freeman at email@example.com or by calling 214-703-0505.