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Are You Concerned Over Internet Privacy?

Are You Concerned Over Internet Privacy?

There was an interesting story in the morning papers today coming out of Carbon Hill. Ala.

If regulators approve, residents in Carbon Hill have will no longer be able to sign up for landline-based telephone service. AT&T customers would have to switch to wireless or high-speed Internet phone service.

We are becoming, more and more, an Internet-based society. This may be one of the biggest societal changes since the mass migrations from farm to city a hundred years ago.

But how comfortable are we with that change?

A new survey says, not very.

The TRUSTe 2014 Consumer Confidence Privacy Report is based on an independent online survey of 2,000 American adults. Pollster Harris Interactive conducted it at the end of 2013 on behalf of TRUSTe.

Bottom line: the report concludes that, even though we use the Internet for everything from work to play, we remain nervous about who’s watching us when were online. 

And we’re getting more nervous

An astounding 92% of respondents said they worry about their online privacy. That’s up 3% from last year.

Asked why they’re worried, 58% said they worry about businesses sharing their personal information.

And nearly 50% said they were concerned about having their online behavior tracked so companies could target them with ads and customer-relationship content.

Who's watching us now?

Despite the concerns, there does not seem to be any increased concern about the government peeking at the history files on our browsers. Fewer than 40% of respondents said that the constant media drumbeat over government surveillance programs was a concern.

That’s far less than you’d expect, given the wall-to-wall coverage of the NSA, FISA courts and other programs.

What we don’t know is any long-term harm to online customer relationships as consumer trust in business privacy practices continues to drop.

The good news is there's no more bad news

The good news is that three-quarters of us are now more likely to look for privacy certification on a website, making it more likely we’ll transact business on sites that that meet objective standards for security.

And 70% of those surveyed said that they now feel more confident to manage their online privacy issues. But this is a mixed blessing.

They’re more confident in controlling their privacy because they’re taking steps that reduce their online footprint with businesses. They are now

-83% less likely to click through on online ads

-80% more likely to avoid mobile apps that they think might endanger their privacy

-74% less likely to use location-tracking on their smartphones

The price of progress

In the 1955 play “Inherit the Wind” by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, the protagonist, a defense attorney in a 1920s creationism trial, turns to the jury in his summation and notes that "progress has never been a bargain." You have to pay for it. You can have the telephone but "you lose privacy and the charm of distance." Air travel may break the bonds of gravity, but "the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline."

The Internet marketplace seems to be like that. It’s Harrods’s, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and the neighborhood multiplex all rolled into one. But for that convenience there’s a price. The price is never being quite certain whether somebody’s lurking around the Internet corner waiting to steal your data.

And it looks like American consumers are still trying to come to grips with that.