Users remain wary

If the first rule of cataloging is “listen to your customers,” online catalogers had better begin posting online privacy policy notices. According to the E-Commerce and Privacy Survey, released June 23 at the U.S. Department of Commerce Privacy Summit in Washington, 81% of Internet users and 79% of consumers who buy products and services from the Web are concerned about online threats to their privacy.

The telephone survey of 1,011 adults was conducted in April by research firm Louis Harris and Associates and Dr. Alan Westin of Columbia University, and was sponsored by privacy research group Privacy & American Business, and accounting firm Price Waterhouse. It followed on the heels of the Federal Trade Commission’s online privacy audit, in which only 14% of the U.S. commercial Websites that the FTC visited posted privacy information practices, and only 2% posted an official online policy (see “FTC reports on privacy” in the July issue of Catalog Age).

But while the FTC found that few commercial sites posted online policies, respondents to the E-Commerce and Privacy Survey clearly want to see such postings. A whopping 91% of the Internet users and 96% of the Internet shoppers surveyed consider it important for companies to post online privacy notices explaining how they will use the personal information that users provide.

But while consumers may worry about online privacy, they aren’t clamoring for legislation. Eighty percent of Internet users and 76% of Internet shoppers agree with the Direct Marketing Association and the Clinton administration that the industry should be allowed to self-regulate online privacy and that legislation should be implemented only if self-regulation fails.

The study also found that 88% of Internet users and 94% of Internet shoppers would feel more confident about using the Web if an independent accounting firm conducted privacy audits of online companies. Similarly, 79% of Internet users and 76% of online shoppers believe that a national program run by the Better Business Bureau to receive, investigate, and resolve online privacy complaints would improve online practices.

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