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Study finds many don't trust privacy policies on the Web

August 19, 1999
Web posted at: 11:00 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT)

by Nancy Weil

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(IDG) -- Heightened media and government attention regarding online privacy issues may be creating more fear than calm among consumers, the majority of whom said in a recent survey that a prominently displayed privacy policy on a Web site isn't likely to earn their trust.

New York-based Jupiter Communications found that 64 percent of online consumers say they are unlikely to trust a Web site, even when a privacy policy is displayed. That finding seems to call into question the effectiveness of government and industry efforts to alleviate consumer concerns by prominently posting privacy policies online.

Part of the problem, Jupiter suggests, is that consumers confuse privacy and security. Keeping credit card information secure is the top consumer concern when it comes to e-commerce, but online users apparently tend to lump that issue with privacy, Jupiter said.

Rather than allowing media reports and government regulators to shape the dialogue over privacy issues, Web sites need to be proactive in educating consumers and tackling their fears, according to an executive summary posted at the market researcher's Web site.

"As media and government scrutiny increase, in turn fueling consumer fears, the privacy issue could quickly turn into the privacy problem," which could affect online advertising and digital commerce revenue, the executive summary says.

"Although the majority of sites now post a privacy policy, consumer fears regarding privacy are proving to be complex and therefore not easily assuaged, as indicated by the fact that currently little consumer consensus exists with regard to specific online privacy concerns," the summary says.

Jupiter asked survey respondents to identify the top two factors that would lead to better trust of Web sites when it comes to privacy and 37 percent said that they "simply did not trust Web sites with their privacy." Posted privacy policies do allay worries of 36 percent of those surveyed.
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Government regulation clearly isn't the answer. Just 14 percent said that they would be more likely to trust a Web site when it comes to privacy if the site were subject to government regulation.

Even less credible in terms of privacy are sites recommended by family and friends. Only 9 percent of the 2,015 online consumers surveyed said that such a recommendation would contribute to their trusting a site to not violate their privacy.

Faring somewhat better are sites posting third-party privacy seals. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said that such a seal would contribute to their willingness to trust a site, although Jupiter contends that's not good enough.

"This finding demonstrates the fact that third-party privacy initiatives need to do more to educate consumers about the role such initiatives play in ensuring privacy standards," the executive summary says. "These seal programs should be aiming for nothing less than 100 percent of consumers surveyed indicating that they would trust a Web site if it displayed a third-party privacy seal."

Nancy Weil is a U.S. correspondent for the IDG News Service in Boston.

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Study: 94% of top 100 Web sites post privacy policies
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Jupiter Communications
The Online Privacy Alliance
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