“Some people read privacy policies, but it’s a tiny minority,” Susannah Fox,director of research at the PewInternet and American Life Project in Washington, D.C., told theE-Commerce Times. “People aren’t that aggressive when it comes toprotecting their own privacy.”
In fact, Forrester Research analyst Christopher Kelley told the E-CommerceTimes that less than 1 percent of the visitors to six major online travelsites during April actually read privacy policies.
“Consumers are incredibly concerned about privacy,” Kelley said. “But theydon’t want to lift a finger to protect their own privacy.”
The failure of consumers to take an active approach to privacy would be good news for manye-tailers, except for one fact: Consumers are more likely to buy and tospend more online if they feel their privacy is safe.
As a result, e-tailers with solid privacy policies in place may have amarketing tool they can use to attract more customers — and big spenders.
“That’s the type of reassurance consumers need,” Kelley said, recommending that e-tailers confident in their privacy policies “put them right in theface” of their customers, by showing a synopsis of the policy just beforethe checkout process starts, for instance.
It’s a bit more tricky, however, for e-tailers whose privacy policies arenot as cut-and-dry. Several e-commerce sites, including Amazon, have comeunder fire from watchdog groups for being inconsistent andhard-to-understand when it comes to privacy standards.
Consumers are apparently inclined to give even those merchants a freeride, at least for the time being. Depending on what information is atstake, however, consumers can get more aggressive.
For instance, the Pew Project’s Fox said surfers visiting financial sitesor seeking health information are much more likely to check out privacystatements, but still only a fraction do so.
A Matter of Trust?
Buy.com spokesperson Kathy Beaman told the E-Commerce Times that even fewerhave ever asked to opt out of data collection.
“It’s a really small number,” Beaman said.
Other e-tailers reported similar statistics.
Since it is not in an e-tailer’s best interest for a customer’s attentionto be diverted away from shopping, even for a moment, even if the privacypolicy contains only reassuring news, most do little to attract attentionto their privacy pages.
The public isn’t exactly clamoring for action. Fox said a Pew surveylast summer found that more than half of all Internet users do not know whatInternet cookies are, and the majority who do accept them from Web sitesanyway.
In other words, information is being collected passively while acustomer shops online.
Yet Pew’s research has also revealed that Internet users want strictprivacy policies and tough punishment. Many favor jail time for anyone whoviolates them.
“There’s a disconnect there,” Fox said. “Internet users express concernabout online privacy, but most don’t change their behavior.”
Or as Kelley stated it: “Consumers want to feel safe, but they aren’twilling to do the work.”
For that reason, though most do not favor government intervention in theInternet as a rule, a majority of consumers welcome U.S. Federal TradeCommission (FTC) involvement in policing privacy, according to Kelley.
“There is a strong sentiment to have the FTC come in and make it safe,”said Kelley. “But in the meantime, there is a great opportunity fore-tailers who have strong policies and feel confident enough to be up frontabout it.”