Study: Online Privacy Concerns Not Overblown

Researcher at University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication have released a new report which succeeds in challenging a popular claim that internet advertisers and retailers have been making – that consumers willingly trade privacy in exchange for benefits provided by advertisers.

internet-privacyThe study concludes that consumers are not actually making a trade, but rather are resigned to the fact that marketers and going to take and use their data anyway. If the consumer gets something of benefit (i.e. discounts in the case of product companies, ability to use a free platform in the case of companies like Facebook), he does not necessarily presume that benefit is connected to his data sharing.

Consumers are, however, either actively or passively making the decision to allow their data to be collected.

The core finding of the study is made clear by how the 1,506 respondents felt about the following three statements:

  • “If companies give me a discount, it is a fair exchange for them to collect information about me without my knowing.” – 91% disagreed
  • “It’s fair for an online or physical store to monitor what I’m doing online when I’m there, in exchange for letting me use the store’s wireless internet, or Wi-Fi, without charge.” – 71% disagreed
  • “It’s okay if a store where I shop uses information it has about me to create a picture of me that improves the services they provide for me.” – 55% disagreed

So, folks who go online are in many cases allowing their data to be collected. Do they understand what is being done with it, or may be done with it? According to the survey, no:

  • 65% believe that “When a website has a privacy policy, it means the site will not share my information with other websites and companies without my permission.” That statement is not true.
  • 69% do not know that a pharmacy does not legally need a person’s permission to sell information about the over-the-counter drugs that person buys.

The study has many more examples of similar misconceptions.

According to the survey, while 84% of consumers want control over what advertisers can learn about them, 65% in fact feel like they have little control.

Your family’s privacy is important but it is impossible to know (a) how much data about you is available, and (b) what advertisers and other commercial interests will do with it unless you limit how much they collect in the first place. A well-educated individual who spends time online will be best positioned to have some control over personal data by taking a few simple precautions. Not sure where to start?

  • Read the Privacy Policy if you are using Facebook or other social networks
  • Clear your cache and delete cookies often if you feel that advertisers know too much about your online activity
  • Understand “free”. If you are getting something for free (Facebook, software, coupons etc.) you are probably giving up something in the process

If you or your family want to be even more guarded with your online activity, there are steps you can take. The folks at Lifehack have a great summary here.



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