Debate Over Internet Privacy Far From Over

Younger Americans and veteran Internet users are among the least concerned with online privacy, according to a report by eMarketer, which found that 75 percent of children are willing to share personal information online about themselves and their family in exchange for goods and services.

The “ePrivacy & Security Report,” also found that, demographically, the highest percentage of users concerned with online privacy are African-Americans.

“Many parents with Internet connections at home fear that their children will share personal information over the net,” said Rob Janes, an eMarketer analyst. “Offerings of free gifts and such from Internet companies often lure these unassuming children into a trap.”

Children are especially vulnerable:

  • 65 percent of children are willing to disclose the name of their favorite store
  • 54 percent are willing to disclose the name of their parents’ favorite store
  • 44 percent are willing to disclose the type of car the family drives
  • 39 percent are willing to disclose the amount of their allowance
  • 26 percent are willing to disclose what their parents do on the weekend.

According to a study of the privacy protection of 751 consumer-aimed Internet sites by Consumers International, only 10 percent of sites targeting children asked children to get their parents’ consent before giving personal information or to tell their parents afterwards. The study also found that existing measures put in place by various governments to protect people’s privacy are not adequate.

According to Consumers International, more than two-thirds of sites collect some sort of personal information and almost all of the sites asked for details that made it easy to identify and contact the person. The vast majority of sites gave users no choice about being on the site’s own mailing list or having their name passed on to affiliates or third parties.

Europe has long considered to be more concerned with privacy than the United States, but Consumers International found that sites in Europe are no better at telling users how they use their data than sites based in the United States. The most popular sites in the United States were more likely than the European sites to give users a choice about being on the company’s mailing list or having their name passed on, despite the existence of legislation which obliges European Union-based sites to provide users with a choice.

One of the biggest battles on the privacy front has yet to be waged. The location-privacy issue sparked by wireless technologies is only the beginning of a broader privacy revolution. According to Forrester Research, Inc., companies are facing mounting customer anxiety and a growing web of U.S. and foreign regulation. To survive, Forrester believes companies must institutionalize their commitment to protect and manage their customers’ privacy by taking a comprehensive, whole-view approach to privacy.

“Anyone who thinks the privacy issue has peaked is greatly mistaken,” said Jay Stanley, analyst at Forrester Research. “We are in the early stages of a sweeping change in attitudes that will fuel years of political battles and put once-routine business practices under the microscope.”

Only 6 percent of North Americans have a high level of trust in how Web sites handle their personally identifiable information, and seven in eight express interest in legislation protecting Internet privacy, Forrester found.

Forrester advises companies to take a whole-view approach to privacy. Firms must recognize privacy as a core business issue that, together with customer relationship management (CRM) strategy, dictates how customers are treated. Then firms must conduct a top-to-bottom reassessment of their policies, practices, and exposure on the privacy issue. Forrester also recommends companies name a high-level person to orchestrate the effort to tackle the issue — a chief privacy officer (CPO) — who would be accountable on privacy issues, have a broad view on how the company operates, and have the clout to stop dangerous activities.

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