Sunday, June 05, 2005

Consumers don't know they are being tracked

The San Francisco Chronicle has published some findings from a study done by the University of Pennsylvania about consumer attitudes and understanding of, among other things, online privacy.

Surprisingly, consumers think the mere presence of a privacy policy is a promise not to share information. Au contraire.

You are being tracked:

"Joseph Turow, a University of Pennsylvania professor who co-authored the study with a pair of grad students, told me he was surprised by how little consumers understand the ways digital technology has altered the retail business.

'The 20th century was about the democratization of prices,' he said. 'We got used to the idea that you could see how much things cost and learn about the product. The digital age changes this.

'Increasingly, what's happening is that people are being tracked and prices are being individualized based on people's behavior and background.'

One of the scarier findings of his study, Turow said, is that three- quarters of all people believe that when a Web site has a privacy policy -- and virtually all do -- it means the site won't share your personal info with others.

In fact, just the opposite is true. Most privacy policies explain in dense, difficult-to-read language that people's data will be shared unless you go to the trouble of opting out from the practice...."

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