News Update :

Online Privacy

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Protection and safety of personal information in the web is a hot item; a number of studies, including one of us in the University of Twente point to the importance of trust as a condition for engaging in online transactions.
Yet one thing puzzles me: while something between 70% to 80% of Internet users say that they consider the protection of their privacy as very important only a small fraction of them (0,5% - 1%) do actually read the privacy guidelines of a website before they give away their personal data.
Personally I have my doubts if consumers really mind about this issue. The discrepancy between what people say and what they do is not unusual in studies concerning peoples' online behavior. But it is of course interesting to know why this happens.
A possible explanation to this is simply that people behave online in a similar way they behave in the real life. Most of us have no problem to give our personal information to credit card companies, loyalty card schemes even to telemarketers. Most of us never ask these parties what they actually do with our personal information.
A similar issue receiving recently more and more prominence is the collection and retention of customer information not given to marketers by the customer himself but based on date collected without our the customer’s knowledge. Such information, collected by search engines and based on peoples’ search behavior, is very worthy to marketers allowing them to profile and target customers very personally and efficiently. The leader in this practice is Google who is facing recently an
investigation by the EU on alleged violation of European privacy lows.
Again the question is whether consumers really mind about the practices, there is not much research available. My personal impression is that, as in the previous case, if people were asked about this most will say that this is something that worries them but in practice I doubt if this is indeed true and I also doubt if there is any user of the Google services who bothered to read the company’s privacy policies. Thinking again about parallels in the real world I would argue that most of us do not mind if our barber or hairdresser knows a lot about our personal life as well as the style of haircut we prefer. The same about the chef of our favorite restaurant who knows us well enough to recommend a good plate or wine that he knows we like.
What the proper policy on this issue must be it is a subject of discussion that I am afraid will last for a long time
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