RealTime IT News

Consumer Online Privacy Concerns Rising

Online consumers expect their personal information be used to deliver truly personalized content and to enhance their online experience -- not for intrusive marketing efforts, says a new industry study.

But fully 60 percent of online adults surveyed still feel that submitting information online is riskier than by telephone -- and over one-third still believe it is a direct invasion of privacy, according to the study from database marketing company Cyber Dialogue.

The number of people who personalized Web pages by submitting private information rose from 2.8 million in April 1997 to 18.8 million as of July 1999, the study said. Since the beginning of 1999 alone, the number has jumped by more than 6 million people.

Cyber Dialogue said it found that 88 percent of online users feel that exchanging information with Web sites is the "best way for companies to learn about customers."

But, "There is a delicate balance between consumer privacy and the need for businesses to collect information," said Kevin Mabley, Cyber Dialogue's director of research. "Consumers need to know they can trust Web sites with their personal info, while businesses must understand that the misuse of personal information will alienate their most valuable asset."

In 1999, only half of online users felt submitting personal information online is a guarantee of receiving junk e-mail, dropping from a figure of 78 percent in 1996.

"The willingness to submit personal information increases dramatically if consumers feel it will be used to create a truly personal site experience," Mabley said.

"For example, asking users if they're interested in financial information is overly broad, but asking if they are interested in specific stock quotes or financial planning tips lets people know a site is interested in interacting with them. Companies can then close the loop by delivering exactly what the consumer desires."

The leading types of content being personalized are stocks, business and industry news, weather, entertainment content and sports, national new and local news. Of online users who personalize content, an average of 3.3 sites are customized, the study found.

Other findings include:

  • Women who are online are more likely than men to agree that the Internet presents a serious threat to personal privacy (43 percent versus 37 percent)
  • Online privacy concerns rise as age increases
  • Concerns about online privacy decrease as a user increases their online commerce activity