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Poll: Consumers concerned about internet privacy

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Consumer Reports Poll: Americans Extremely Concerned About Internet Privacy

Most Consumers Want More Control Over How Their Online Information Is Collected & Used

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A poll released today by the Consumer Reports National Research Center shows that most Americans are very concerned about what is being done with their personal information online. According to the poll, 82 percent of consumers are concerned about their credit card numbers being stolen online, while 72 percent are concerned that their online behaviors were being tracked and profiled by companies.
Although 68 percent of consumers have provided personal information in order to access a website, 53 percent are uncomfortable with internet companies using their email content or browsing history to send relevant ads, and 54 percent are uncomfortable with third parties collecting information about their online behavior.
The poll revealed that 93 percent of Americans think internet companies should always ask for permission before using personal information and 72 percent want the right to opt out when companies track their online behavior.
“Americans are clearly concerned with how their personal information is being collected and used by internet companies,” said Joel Kelsey, policy analyst with Consumers Union. “The vast majority of consumers want more control over their personal information online and want the ability to stop internet companies from tracking and profiling them.”
The Consumer Reports poll shows that consumers are trying to take steps to limit the information that is being collected and shared about them online. For example, over one-third (35%) use alternate email addresses to avoid providing real information; over one-quarter (26%) have used software that hides their identity; and one-quarter have provided fake information to access a website (25%).
Consumers are aware that information about their surfing habits is being collected online, but many are not aware of what companies are able to do with their information. Among the other findings of the poll:
• 61% are confident that what they do online is private and not shared without their permission;
• 57% incorrectly believe that companies must identify themselves and indicate why they are collecting data and whether they intend to share it with other organizations;
• 48% incorrectly believe their consent is required for companies to use the personal information they collect from online activities;
• 43% incorrectly believe a court order is required to monitor activities online.
Recent questions have been raised about third-party companies, such as NebuAd, that work with internet providers to track and then sell information about consumers’ online activity without their knowledge.
“Many consumers have misconceptions about the information available about them and how commonly it is sold by companies without their knowledge,” said Kelsey. “Our poll makes clear that consumers want more control over the treasure trove of information companies are collecting about their activities online.”
The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a telephone survey of a nationally representative probability sample of telephone households. A total of 2006 interviews were completed among adults 18+. Interviewing took place over July 24-27, 2008. The margin of error is +/- 2.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Joel Kelsey – 646-401-1030 (cell) or
Michael McCauley – 415-902-9537 (cell)