NY Times States the Obvious: Privacy on Web a Big Issue

Excerpts from the NYTimes:

As arguments swirl over online privacy, a new survey indicates the issue is a dominant concern for Americans.

More than 90 percent of respondents called online privacy a “really” or “somewhat” important issue, according to the survey of more than 1,000 Americans conducted by TRUSTe, an organization that monitors the privacy practices of Web sites of companies like I.B.M., Yahoo and WebMD for a fee.

When asked if they were comfortable with behavioral targeting — when advertisers use a person’s browsing history or search history to decide which ad to show them — only 28 percent said they were. More than half said they were not. And more than 75 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “The Internet is not well regulated, and naïve users can easily be taken advantage of.”

The survey arrives at a fractious time. Debate over behavioral advertising has intensified, with industry groups trying to avoid government intervention by creating their own regulatory standards. Still, some Congressional representatives and the Federal Trade Commission are questioning whether there are enough safeguards around the practice.

Last month, the F.T.C. revised its suggestions for behavioral advertising rules for the industry, proposing, among other measures, that sites disclose when they are participating in behavioral advertising and obtain consumers’ permission to do so.

One F.T.C. commissioner, Jon Leibowitz, warned that if the industry did not respond, intervention would be next.

Respondents used various tactics to be more anonymous online. Forty-one percent used a Web browser that deleted cookies and the history of the sites they had visited. About the same number used software to use the Internet anonymously.

Around one-third of respondents said they chose “do not track” options on Web sites that offered them. Eleven percent used a proxy server to mask the Internet address of the computer they were using, and 36 percent gave false information when registering for Web sites.

More than half of respondents said government should be “wholly” or “very” responsible for protecting an individual’s online privacy.

But there was a note of self-reliance, too: more than 75 percent of respondents said individuals themselves should also be wholly or very responsible for protecting their own privacy.



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