Paying for Privacy?

Are you one of the “82 percent of people are concerned about their credit card numbers being stolen online, while 72 percent are concerned that their online activity is being tracked and profiled by companies?”  In the article “Americans Anxious over Online Privacy” (Source several other online security concerns are expressed in a poll conducted by Consumer Reports.  In the poll Americans state that they:

–       Have provided personal information in order to gain access to a website; but that they also don’t like to do it.

–       Are not comfortable with Internet companies using their email content or browsing history to target them with “relevant” ads.

–       Feel that Internet companies should ask permission before using their information

According to the poll, “72 percent want the right to opt out when companies track their online behavior.”

However, even more in the poll indicate that they have provided false or fake information to websites, that they set up “junk mail” or email accounts specifically for Internet use of this sort and that many use online software to conceal their identity.  Others say that they are willing to pay for their privacy.  

AT&T decided to do something about their customer’s privacy concerns and is calling on other companies to do the same.  In a Senate hearing on the manner Dorothy Attwood, Chief Privacy Officer, AT&T stated:

“While we have no immediate plans to offer online behavioral advertising we believe that a key dimension of any such program would be to give customers significant control over collection and use of their search and Web browsing data for online advertising purposes, by requiring their advance affirmative consent,” said, testifying before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and  Transportation.

As a result of listening to their customers AT&T started programs that “would seek permission from its customers before collecting and using their information for online behavioral advertising. AT&T would have transparent information about what the company would collect and use for online behavioral advertising and Customers will be able to opt in or out of any AT&T behavioral advertising program. Their identities will be protected no matter what choice they make about being part of any behavioral advertising campaign.”

Recently online consumers actually admitted to being willing to pay for privacy.  From the current issue of a journal of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS®)

“Our study indicates that when privacy information is made more salient and accessible, some consumers are willing to pay a premium to purchase from privacy protective websites,” write the authors.

When shopping online for batteries, participants in one phase of the study made significantly more purchases from sites rated “high privacy” (47.4%) than participants buying from sites rated “no privacy” (5.6%).

Offering a sense of consumers’ willingness to pay extra to insure privacy, in another phase of the study participants demonstrated that they would spend an average additional 59 cents for batteries from vendors that offered better privacy.”

During the study it is noted that many online privacy policies are not only hard to find, but difficult to understand.  The average Internet user may find it the legalese confusing and therefore they are often overlooked simply to consumers can get their purchase done and move on to the next thing they need to do. For more information on how the study was conducted, participants and other information visit Science Daily.

But it’s not just Internet privacy that is being carefully scrutinized.  Four major cell phone carriers were called in to Congress to discuss the privacy issues that are a growing concern in cell phone use.  Carriers are asked to provide information on:

–       what personally identifiable data the companies collect from their customers;

–       how the data is collected;

–        what tools the firms use to identify the location of their customers; and

–       whether they sell or use for marketing purposes any of the personally identifiable data they collect.

The concern is that while wireless companies rely on “tracking the location of customers’ mobile devices in order to match calls with the nearest cell towers and deliver service, but the congressmen warned that using that information for commercial purposes would run afoul of the law.”

Do you have the same concerns about your privacy both online and on your cell phone?  Are privacy policies too confusing and unhelpful?  And would you PAY for your privacy or do you think it is the responsibility of merchants and service providers to protect it?