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Privacy Notices Miss Mark With Consumers

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Posted December 3, 2001 By Roy Mark     Feedback

New Harris poll shows Americans value Web privacy policies but find notices too long and complicated.

According to new Harris Interactive study, Americans want privacy notices when they visit a Web site, but they currently find the notices too long and complicated. The survey was sponsored by the Privacy Leadership Initiative (PLI), a coalition of businesses and affiliated organizations aimed at empowering consumers to control how their personal information is used and shared offline and online.

The PLI Harris survey closely tracked another study released today, the Culnan-Milne Survey on Consumers & Online Privacy Notices, in which similar results also identified a strong consumer need/desire for short notices on privacy.

The Harris survey's key findings include 77 percent of respondents favored a short, concise privacy policy; 70 percent of respondents agreed that companies "should use the same summary or checklist for their privacy policies"; More than half of respondents identified six separate categories of information that they said were "very important" or "important" elements to be considered for a privacy policy; Only three percent of respondents reviewed online privacy notices carefully most of the time while nearly 64 percent did not read notices at all or have only glanced at them; Only 12 percent reported reviewing financial notices carefully; and The top reasons cited for not reading privacy policies more carefully were a lack of time/interest and a high level of difficulty understanding the notices.

"That consumers care deeply about privacy matters is a given," said David Klaus, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based PLI. "What is new here is that for the first time we have a survey which quantifies growing consumer frustration as they wade through lengthy privacy notices. The first step to help consumers is development of short, clear privacy notices that consumers will read and trust."

Klaus added, "The next step is to educate consumers on what privacy statements mean and how they can come to rely on them with confidence. Educating consumers is the mission of PLI, and this study should serve as a wakeup call to businesses to take the next step and educate consumers on matters of personal privacy."

PLI has undertaken a number of new projects in its consumer education campaign. Most notably, PLI and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) launched a "consumer tips" campaign in October to educate consumers on online safety and security. So far, the campaign has directed 400,000 unique visitors to the PLI Web site and generated more than eight million page views in its first month. The "banner ad" campaign will generate over 600 million impressions and reach more than 70% of Internet households in the next 12 months.

Harris Interactive uses Internet-based and traditional methodologies to provide its clients with critical knowledge concerning the views, experiences, behaviors and attitudes of people worldwide. Known for the Harris Poll, Harris Interactive has 45 years of experience in providing its clients with market research and polling services including custom, multi-client and service bureau research, as well as customer relationship management services.

Harris Interactive acquired the custom research group of Yankelovich Partners in February.

The Harris Interactive survey was asked of 2,053 adults aged 18 and over. The complete results are available at

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