Survey Information: Americans Care Deeply About Their Privacy

Ponemon Institute: 2010 Privacy Trust Study of the United States Government - 2010 
Survey results suggest that a majority of respondents do not trust the privacy commitments of the federal government. While not a steady downward trend over six years, the data does reveal that privacy trust in the U.S. government declined from a high of 52 percent in 2005 to a low of 38 percent in the present study.

Americans Reject Tailored Advertising and Three Activities that Enable It, September 29, 2009
Researchers at UC Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communication found the majority of consumers do not want their information collected and used for the purpose of customizing targeted news or advertisements. Consumers also believe they have the right to access and control information that companies have collected about them. Study authors reported a number of significant findings. Among them: If given a choice, 68% of Americans "definitely would not" allow advertisers to follow them online even if their online activities would remain anonymous. 19% "probably" would not allow this tracking. 63% of Americans feel that laws should require advertisers to delete information about their Internet activity immediately. 69% of Americans would like to see a law giving them the right to access all of the information a Web site has collected about them. 62% of respondents believe that "If a website has a privacy policy, it means that the site cannot share information about you with other companies, unless you give the website your permission." 80% of young adults reject advertisements that are tailored based on their activities across multiple Web sites. If the advertisements are tailored based on information gathered about their offline behavior, then 90% of young adults want nothing to do with these ads.

Consumer Awareness Project, 2009
Consumers think they are knowledgeable about online privacy, but many are unaware of how their activity and behaviors can be followed and collected online.

    * 70% of Internet users say they are very or fairly knowledgeable about how to protect their personal privacy online
    * 42% are unsure whether their online activity is tracked and recorded by companies for commercial purposes
    * 12% believe that tracking by companies for commercial purposes does not happen at all

Consumers do not always read privacy policies.

    * 32% say they have read their ISP privacy policy closely
    * 30% have read online retailers‚Äô privacy policies closely
    * 18% have read search engine privacy policies closely

Parents know less than they think about their children’s privacy online when it comes to sites tracking their children’s online activity.

    * 69% of parents say they are very or fairly knowledgeable about how to protect their children's privacy online, but 29% are not even sure whether the websites their children use have privacy policies. Just 31% have read the privacy policies of the websites their children visit closely
    * 56% are unsure whether children‚Äôs online activity can be tracked by companies for commercial purposes.

Pew Internet and American Life Project: Adults and Social Network Websites, Jan 14, 2009
According to this survey, 60% of adults and 66% of teens maintain privacy settings. This data is consistent with what we are hearing from the social networks themselves: over 50% of Facebook users customized their privacy settings last December using Facebook’s new privacy wizard.

Harris Interactive/Westin Poll, April 10, 2008
A recent nationwide survey by Harris Interactive and Alan F. Westin found that consumers are uncomfortable with information about their online activities being used to better target advertisements. 59% of respondents were not comfortable with Web sites like Google, Yahoo!, and MSN using information about their online activities to tailor content to their interests, even though the question indicated that the practice allowed them to offer e-mail and other services for free. 41% were comfortable with the practice.

After introducing a series of privacy and security policies taken from on the FTC's publication on self-regulation for behavioral advertising, 55% said they would be comfortable with the practice, while 45% would still be uncomfortable.

TRUSTe Behavioral Targeting Survey, March 28, 2008
TRUSTe survey results released today showed that consumers are deeply concerned about the privacy implications of targeted advertising. Of the 1015 respondents:

  • 57% said they are not comfortable with advertisers using their browsing histories to serve relevant ads.
  • 42% said they would sign up for a registry that would prevent advertisers from tracking their online behavior, even if it meant seeing more ads that were less relevant to their interests.

Javelin Report on Identity Theft, February 1, 2008
Javelin's latest figures show that identity theft is still prevalent, but on the decline. As consumers are becoming more vigilant and credit card and other companies take greater steps to secure their data, identity thieves are having new difficulty obtaining and utilizing sensitive information. A survey of over 5,000 individuals, including 445 fraud victims, showed that the number of identity theft victims has steadily declined since 2003, down from 10.1 million to 8.1 million adult victims. The total one year fraud amount has also dropped by roughly $10 billion since 2006, when there were $55.7 billion in losses.

Center for the Digital Future's Annual Internet Survey, January 17, 2008
In a survey by the Center for the Digital Future, sixty-one percent of adult Americans said they were very or extremely concerned about the privacy of personal information when buying online, an increase from 47 percent in 2006. Before last year, that figure had largely been dropping since 2001.

Annenberg/Samuelson Privacy Policy Findings, November 9, 2007
Research conducted by the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania and the Samuelson Clinic at UC Berkeley Law School confirms earlier findings about consumer privacy expectations, particularly with regard to "privacy policies" on Web sites. In the 2007 survey:

  • 37% of online shoppers falsely believed that a privacy policy prohibits a website from using information to analyze individuals' activities online.
  • Roughly half of online shoppers agreed with the statement that, "if a website has a privacy policy, it means that the site cannot share information about your address and purchases with affiliated companies that are owned by the website."
  • 55.4% agreed with the statement that, "if a website has a privacy policy, it means that the site cannot sell information about your address and purchase information to other companies."
  • 39.8% agreed with the statement that, "if a website has a privacy policy, it means that the site cannot buy information about you from other sources to analyze your online activities."

In 2005, a similar study by the Annenberg Center found that 59% of online shoppers agreed with the statement that, "when a website has a privacy policy, it means the site will not share my information with other websites or companies." This was up from 57% in 2003, the first year of the survey. Other results from the 2003 survey include:

  • 94% agreed with the statement that, "I should have a legal right to know everything that a web site knows about me."
  • 59% of those polled did not know that websites collect information even if there is no registration requirement on the site.

The 2007 report can be found here.

FTC Workshop – Ehavioral Advertising, November 4, 2007
At a recent FTC workshop on behavioral advertising, Dr. Larry Ponemon discussed the results of his institute's 2006 online marketing study. The 1700 Internet users surveyed indicated a desire for more control over their online experience:

  • 55% of respondents believed that an online ad targeted to their individual preference improves their experience. However, only 20% of respondents thought that it was acceptable for marketers to track their behavior online.
  • 84% of users wanted more control over the types and frequency of Internet ads that they receive.

TRUSTe Privacy Survey, December 6, 2006
TRUSTe has just come out with a major report that highlights greater concern for online privacy. In light of growing fears about identity theft and mishandling of personal data, consumers are being more cautious:

  • 71% said that they have decided against registering or making a purchase online because those actions required them to provide information that they did not want to divulge.
  • 41% said that, in the past six months, they have provided inaccurate information to Web sites that required personal information which respondents did not want to share.

They are also taking a variety of proactive measures to protect their privacy online:

  • 45% have used more than one email address so that one is reserved solely for their personal communication
  • 43% have read privacy policies
  • 37% have backed up important files
  • 33% have provided email addresses and information that would not identify them personally
  • 33% have changed passwords on a regular basis
  • 26% have looked for third-party seals or certification
  • 16% have used email encryption
  • 12% have logged-in anonymously or used anonymizing or free ID Web sites to generate their ID

However, there continues to be confusion and neglect when it comes to a Web site's privacy policy. 53% of respondents believe that a posted privacy statement means the organization "will never sell or give any of my personal information to anyone else," and only 28% say they usually check whether a Web site even has a privacy policy.

Consumer Reports WebWatch Report, October 26, 2005
A report released today by Consumer Reports WebWatch finds that not only are users concerned about privacy breaches online, but that it's having an impact on their Internet usage. 86% of users claimed to have changed their behavior because of a fear of identity theft:

  • 30% have reduced their overall use of the Internet.
  • 53% have stopped giving out personal information on the Internet.
  • 25% have stopped buying things online.
  • 54% have become more likely to read a site's privacy policy or user agreement before buying.
  • 29% have cut back on how often they buy on the Internet.

CBS News/New York Times Poll, October 2, 2005
The results of the latest CBS News survey show that privacy is on the minds of many Americans: 52% of those surveyed believe that the right to privacy is under serious threat, and an additional 30% believe the right is already lost. There is also a great deal of suspicion about the collection of data from individuals. 83% of respondents think that companies collecting personal information is mostly a bad thing, and 65% think the federal government should be doing more to regulate the practice.

Cookie Confusion, May 31, 2005
In the past few months, several new studies have underscored the extent of concern and confusion over the use of cookies as a tracking technology. In April, Jupiter Research published a report in which 38% of online users believed that cookies are an invasion of their security and privacy online, and 39% of users claimed to delete the cookies on their computers at least monthly. A later survey by Nielsen/NetRatings found that about 44% of users claimed to have deleted cookies in the previous month.

A recent survey by marketing firm Insight Express shows that many users have incorrect or incomplete understandings of what cookies are, how they operate, and how to get rid of them.

  • Only 25% of respondents could accurately define what a cookie is.
  • Many of the respondents were sent a cookie by the survey and asked to delete it. Of those who claimed to have successfully removed the cookie, only 35% had done so.

Ponemon Institute Online Marketing Survey, September 9, 2004
The Ponemon Institute's recent study of online advertising sheds some light on the conflict between offering more individualized advertising and collecting personal information to do it. While 45% of respondents said they would provide additional personal information in order to receive more ads targeted to their interests, 55% wanted technology that targets ads without such information. There was also concern about the proper enforcement of privacy policies: 69% favored using privacy-enabling technology to protect personal data instead of relying on third-party verification of good privacy practices.

Forrester Survey, June 30, 2004
The latest Forrester report shows that consumer concerns about data security remain high.

  • 61% of online consumers say concerns over privacy and security make them less willing to give out credit card information online.
  • 50% are concerned about creating a personalized profile on a portal site

These fears aren't confined to the Web, either. 73% said they hesitate to provide their credit card number over the phone, and 30% of mobile users said security fears make them use mobile data services less.

PC World's 2003 Privacy Survey, October 10, 2003
As PC World's article, "The Great American Privacy Makeover," points out, there is often a disconnect between consumers' concerns and their actions when it comes to privacy. For example, 91% of respondents were concerned about their web usage being tracked (68% said they were "very/extremely concerned"), but only 33% of users claimed to read privacy policies frequently.

2003 Harris Poll, March 20, 2003
The latest Harris Interactive poll on consumer privacy shows that consumers are growing increasingly dissatisfied with the handling of their personal information:

  • 54% of respondents disagreed with the statement that "most businesses handle the personal information they collect about consumers in a proper and confidential way." In 1999, only 35% disagreed with the same statement.
  • 53% of adults disagreed that "existing laws and organizational practices provide a reasonable level of protection for consumer privacy today." In 1999, the figure was only 38%.

2002 Harris Poll, March 24, 2002
An extensive new Harris Interactive poll of 1529 Internet users reveals that people are becoming more concerned about their privacy and the trustworthiness of companies they do business with. Among the survey's findings:

  • 68% of consumers said they consider the privacy protections of a company before they will do business with that company.
  • 83% say they will stop doing business with a company if they hear or read that it has been using customers' information improperly.
  • 84% stated that independent verification of a company's privacy policies was an important, very important, or absolute requirement.

Forrester On The Cost of Online Privacy Worries, September 18, 2001
While lots of surveys report that consumers are concerned about their privacy when shopping online, there's been a lack of hard numbers about how much of an impact this actually has on sales. Are users facing their fears and shopping anyway? According to Forrester's Christopher Kelley, 60% of consumers seriously worrying about the safety of their personal information online means that the magic number for lost e-commerce revenue in 2001 is about $15 billion.

Freedom of Information in the Digital Age, April 30, 2001
A report by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the First Amendment Center looks at the tension between the values of privacy and openness. While people expressed in an interest in an open society, they were willing to reduce the availability of public records and the investigative rights of journalists in exchange for greater personal privacy. A survey found that 89% of respondents were concerned about personal privacy, putting it at the same level as crime and health care. There was particular concern over the handling of personal information by private companies: only 7% of respondents had a great deal of confidence that private companies use personal information exactly the way they say they will, and 86% were concerned about private companies selling their personal information.

Pew Internet Life Survey, August 21, 2000
The Pew Internet & American Life Project has published a new report on privacy concerns for American Internet users. The report makes two key findings about user expectations and habits:

  • Users want the presumption of privacy online. 86% of users favor "opt-in" policies for the use of their personal information, and 54% of users believe tracking users' behavior is an invasion of privacy (only 27% say tracking helps sites tailor content to specific users).
  • Most users are unaware of or do not take basic steps to protect their privacy online. 56% of users cannot identify what cookies are, and only 10% of users have set their browsers to reject them. Just 5% of users have used anonymizing software to mask their information.

Privacy in USA Weekend, July 3, 2000
USA Weekend has an extensive feature on consumer attitudes towards privacy that includes the results of an Opinion Research poll. A slight majority of respondents said they were extremely concerned with their ability to keep personal information private (53%) and that current laws do an inadequate job of protecting their right to privacy (51%). The survey also found that 65% of respondents believe companies tracking their Internet use is an invasion of privacy.

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