E-Commerce & Privacy: What Net Users Want
A Survey of the American Public Conducted by Louis Harris & Associates, Inc. and Dr. Alan F. Westin
Sponsored by Privacy & American Business and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
Netizens Want Better Privacy Rules and Practices For E-Commerce
WASHINGTON, D.C. Strong majorities of Net users are very concerned about threats to their personal privacy online and are sending business clear messages about what it will take to make them feel secure when visiting company websites and purchasing products and services on the Internet, according to the E-Commerce and Privacy Survey released June 23rd at the U.S. Department of Commerce Privacy Summit in a presentation by Dr. Alan F. Westin.
The telephone survey of 1, 011 adults 18 or over was conducted in April by Louis Harris and Associates and Dr. Alan F. Westin of Columbia University. The survey was sponsored by Privacy & American Business a privacy think tank that conducts research, holds conferences, and publishes a national report on consumer privacy issues and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
The major findings of the survey are:
" 81% of Net users and 79% of Net users who buy products and services on the Net are concerned about threats to their personal privacy while online. However, a very small portion, 6% of Net users and 9% of users that buy products and services on the Net, report that they have actually been victims of an online privacy invasion.
" Net users and computer users want business to strengthen privacy online in specific ways. Very strong majorities (91%) of Net users and (96%) of Net users that buy products and services online say that it is important with 69% of Net users and 72% of Net purchasers saying it is "very important" for business Websites to post notices explaining how they will use the personal information customers provide when buying products or services on the Web.
" Similar majorities of those not yet online say this would be important to them if they were online. 94% of computer users and 79% of non computer users say this would be important with 81% of computer users and 63% of non computer users saying it is "very important" for business Websites to post privacy policies online.
"This is the most detailed survey to date not only of the privacy concerns of Internet users," Dr. Westin said, "but also of what concrete steps Net users want business websites to take to strengthen Net users' confidence that the personal information they provide will be properly handled."
"The results of the survey, especially concerning meaningful, verifiable privacy policies, are made all the more important by the Federal Trade Commission's recent report that only 14% of commercial websites in the U.S. tell consumers anything about the sites' information practices, and only about 2% have any clear privacy policies posted," said Patrick Sullivan of Price Waterhouse.
The primary focus of the survey examined the experiences, concerns, and policy preferences of:
" 39% of the American public now using the Internet, representing 76 million people
" 23% of Net users that purchase products, services, or information online, representing 17.5 million people
" 41% of computer users that do not use the Internet, representing 35 million people
" 34% of the adult population that do not use a computer, representing 68 million people
Net users and computer users also expressed strong support for the following policies to promote privacy on the Web:
" A privacy auditing procedure of companies with websites conducted by an independent accounting firm that would issue a public report of the findings. 81% of computer users, 88% of Net users, and 94% of Net purchasers say this type of privacy auditing system would increase their confidence in using company websites.
" A national program run by the Better Business Bureau to receive, investigate, and resolve online privacy complaints. 79% of computer users, 79% of Net users, and 76% of Net purchasers believe that such a program would improve online privacy practices.
" A three part Private Sector Plan in which organizations with websites would adopt privacy rules and communicate them to consumers; outside reviews would verify that organizations are following their policies; and procedures would be provided for consumers to complain about improper uses of their information and have their complaints resolved. 85% of computer users, 88% of Net Users, and 92% of Net purchasers believe that such a program would have an impact on Internet privacy.
" Strong majorities of computer users and Net users agree with the Clinton Administration policy to allow industry and public-interest groups to develop effective privacy rules and practices for the Internet and to legislate only if the private sector fails to implement these policies. 79% of computer users, 80% of Net users, and 76% of Net users that buy products and services online support this approach.
" A majority (51%) of Net users that buy products and services online believe that business incentives will be enough to encourage companies to adopt good privacy standards and legislation will not be needed. However, 60% of Net users and 67% of computer users believe that only legislation and legal enforcement will make most businesses observe good privacy policies.
"The survey findings are really a marketing survey for American businesses on the Net," Dr. Westin said. "The results tell us what strong majorities of Net users want but do not see happening yet -- business websites displaying privacy notices, user choice as to how personal information is used, and -- especially -- adoption of verification techniques and dispute-resolution programs that would make such privacy policies reliable in the eyes of Net users. Now we know clearly what Net users want, and it's time for business to deliver the goods."