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Ignorance about Privacy

More interesting results from a recent national telephone survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.  The report states:

The survey further reveals that the majority of adults who use the internet do not know where to turn for help if their personal information is used illegally online or offline.  The study’s findings suggest a complex mix of ignorance and knowledge, fear and bravado, realism and idealism that leaves most internet-using adult American shoppers open to financial exploitation by retailers.

Some statistics:

  • 66% could not correctly name even one of the three U.S. credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). . . .
  • 72% do not know that charities are allowed to sell their names to other charities even without permission.
  • 64% do not know that a supermarket is allowed to sell other companies information about what they buy.
  • 75% do not know the correct response—false—to the statement, “When a website has a privacy policy, it means the site will not share my information with other websites or companies.”


The current approach toward protecting consumer privacy is, in many contexts, largely self-regulatory.  It consists of a company informing consumers of the use of their personal information via privacy policies and allowing consumers to choose whether or not to do business with that company.   But if so many people are misinformed, does this system really work?  And if the onus is on individuals to protect themselves against identity theft by monitoring their credit reports, how effective can this be if most consumers don’t know about the credit reporting agencies?

Originally posted at PrawfsBlawg


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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.

Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz, of the Privacy + Security Forum and International Privacy + Security Forum, annual events designed for seasoned professionals.

If you are interested in privacy and data security issues, there are many great ways Professor Solove can help you stay informed:
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