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Americans want online privacy -- per new Zogby poll

American consumers clearly want online privacy, per a national poll conducted over the weekend by Zogby International, that was commissioned by Precursor LLC. 

  • In a nutshell, over 80% of Americans are concerned about the security and privacy of their personal information on the Internet; about 90% of Americans consider some common industry behaviors to be unfair business practices; and about 80% of Americans support a variety of stronger consumer protections of their privacy online.

More specifically, this Zogby poll asked eight timely questions that are highly pertinent to:

  • The FTC's privacy review of online advertising, cloud computing, and other matters implicating privacy;
  • Congressional efforts to update and harmonize privacy law for the Internet era;
  • Several current privacy-related coalitions/efforts;
  • The DOJ/FTC practice to exclude privacy problems from antitrust enforcement; and
  • The Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee hearing Wednesday June 9th on "Oversight of Enforcement of Antitrust Laws."     

Zogby International polled a representative sample of 2,111 American adults from 6-4-10 through 6-7-10; the margin of error is +/-2.2%. Zogby's summary of the survey results can be viewed here.

The Zogby poll, which is easily replicable, proves that despite repeated declarations by many opponents of online privacy that "privacy is dead," Americans still clearly want and expect online privacy. 

  • The poll also strongly suggests that both Washington and many industry privacy practices are clearly out of step with what the American people want and expect.

The Zogby Poll Results:

Americans' general views on Internet security/privacy:

  • "About nine in ten (87%) adults surveyed nationwide are concerned with the security of their personal information on the Internet, while 13% are not."
  • "Eight in ten (80%) are concerned with companies recording their online habits and using the data to generate profit through advertising, and a fifth (19%) are not."

Americans' assessment of whether some current common online practices are fair or unfair business practices:

  • "Nine in ten (88%) believe that tracking where Internet users go on the Internet without their permission is an unfair business practice, while 7% believe it is a fair practice."
  • "Relaxing a privacy policy after a company has collected personal information and associations is an unfair business practice according to nine in ten (91%), while 1% believe it is a fair practice."

Americans' views on a variety of stronger consumer protections of their privacy online:

Concerning potential FTC privacy regulations: 

  • "Half (49%) believe government regulators should play a larger role in protecting online consumer privacy, and more than a third (36%) do not."

Concerning pending Congressional online privacy legislation:

  • "The large majority (88%) believe consumers should enjoy similar legal privacy protections online as they have offline, while 4% do not."

Concerning the privacy proposal of nine consumer groups for a "Do Not Track List" akin to the current "Do Not Call List:"

  • "Eight in ten (79%) support a national "Do Not Track List," similar to the current national "Do Not Call List," to prevent tracking where people go on the Internet, and 6% do not."

Concerning the pending Digital Due Process Coalition, which supports updating surveillance laws for the Internet Age:

  • "The large majority (79%) believe law enforcement should have to get a warrant, like the one they have to get to wiretap phone conversations, to track where a user goes on the Internet, while 12% do not." 

A Logical Extension:

First, this national Zogby poll is a logical extension of previous research on the subject:

This Zogby International poll confirms and builds upon the findings of two previous national polls concerning consumers' online privacy views.

  • This Zogby poll strongly validates the findings of a September 2008 Consumer Reports Survey: "Consumer Reports Poll: Americans Extremely Concerned About Internet Privacy: Most Consumers Want More Control Over How Their Online Information Is Collected & Used."
    • That survey found: "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." 
  • This Zogby survey also confirms and builds upon the independent study led by Professor Joseph Turow of the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania entitled: "Americans Reject Tailored Advertising." That study/poll found:
    • 86% of young adults say they don’t want tailored advertising if it is the result of following their behavior on websites other than one they are visiting, and 90% of them reject it if it is the result of following what they do offline.
    • 69% of American adults feel there should be a law that gives people the right to know everything that a website knows about them.
    • 92% agree there should be a law that requires “websites and advertising companies to delete all stored information about an individual, if requested to do so.”

Second, this Zogby poll is a logical extension of my 22 part "Publicacy vs. Privacy" research series over the last year and a half.

  • I coined the term "publicacy" (because there was no antonym/opposite for the word privacy in the english language, and because the word "publicity" does not connote political opposition to privacy), two years ago in Congressional testimony, in order to identify and name the Web 2.0 movement's new belief system that individuals' private information should be public because public transparency collectively is better for society than individual privacy. 

Third, this poll is also a logical extension of my House Internet Subcommittee testimony last year, in which I proposed a "consumer-driven, technology/competition neutral privacy framework" for potential Federal privacy protection legislation.  

In sum, this Zogby poll is interesting and important because it exposes how unpopular many common Internet online privacy-related practices are with American consumers and how popular many proposed privacy-related protections would be with the American public. 

  • Better protecting Americans' privacy online is a rare  public policy issue, which garners exceptionally strong bipartisan support with the American people.