The majority of Internet users would welcome government intervention in promoting information security, and in fact, would even inconvenience themselves to help make it happen, according to market researcher INTECO Corp.
“While it goes against U.S. tradition to seek government intervention, the present climate is such that it would be welcomed,” said INTECO analyst George Barto. Internet users have deep concerns about privacy of personal information, Barto said, and “those concerns will heighten as the nature of information exchanged over the Web becomes more and more sensitive — information such as health, tax and social security records for example.”
Despite the activities of industry organizations such as the Online Privacy Alliance that promote self-regulation as an alternative to government intervention, recent INTECO studies showed that 72 percent of Internet users agree that the government should act to ensure security for private transactions on the Internet. An astounding 64 percent would even be willing to appear in person to verify their identity for a digital certificate.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is aware that self-regulation has yet to develop a plan to ensure online privacy. In its report to Congress on online privacy in June of 1998, the FTC concluded that “industry’s efforts to encourage voluntary adoption of the most basic fair information practices have fallen short of what is needed to protect consumers.”
Some of INTECO’s statistics seem to support the viewpoint that privacy concerns are more perceptual than real. For example, figures indicate that more experienced users — defined as those who have placed orders or made reservations online — are slightly less concerned over privacy issues than the average Internet users.
While on one hand this may indicate generally satisfactory Internet experiences, the figures might as easily be interpreted as reflecting a self-selecting group with lower levels of concern to begin with and more willingness to take chances, Barto said. Early adopters of technology frequently exhibit such characteristics.
Additional statistics show that willingness to be inconvenienced for the sake of information privacy is higher among those who place orders online (67 percent) and higher still among those who pay bills online (85 percent). The online bill-paying group was also the stronger advocate for governmental action to ensure secure online transactions.
“Establishing confidence that personal data will be used responsibly is one of several barriers to be overcome before electronic commerce can flourish. Similar concerns apply to the many transactions between government organizations and citizens,” Barto said.
The number of people affected by the issue of Internet security is quickly growing. According to INTECO, more than 30 percent of US households have Internet access via PCs, and the company forecasts that nearly 50 percent will have PC access by 2003. Mediamark Research estimates that 53.5 million US adults, 27 percent of the adult population, use the Internet. Intelliquest Information Group recently found that 81 percent of Internet users plan to shop or buy online in the next year.
“If you view those numbers in terms of voters, as politicians are inclined to do, you begin to see the formation of a constituency with some clout,” Barto said.