3 things you don't wanna know about your personal information

Thursday, 24 July 2003, 1:31 AM EST

A recent study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania reminds us that when it comes to website privacy policies, the information highway is pretty much a one-way street. Online merchants are frantically sucking up every scrap of information they can get about consumers, but consumers know next to nothing about what happens to that information. The Annenberg study showed, for example, that 57 percent of Americans believe incorrectly that if a website has a privacy policy, it will not share personal information about users. It showed that nearly 60 percent of home Internet users believe incorrectly that if they don't register with a website, that website will not collect any information about them.

When I spoke about the survey with Tom Lenard, vice-president of research for the Progress and Freedom Foundation, an industry sponsored "market oriented think tank," he cited the survey's numbers as evidence that for most consumers, privacy was is a non-issue. And because Lenard believes that industries' new uses of personal information are actually good for consumers ("They get more targeted marketing pitches"), he sees no reason to make it an issue now. What the consumers don't know, he argues, won't hurt them.

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