Consumers Most Worried About Privacy, Polls Find

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Several new surveys reveal that the majority of U.S. consumers are far more concerned about electronic crime and protection of personal information over the Internet in the coming year than they are about serious disruptions stemming from Y2K computer glitches.

According to Harris Interactive's QuickQuery study, released last week, consumer concern over Y2K problems has only slightly increased - now running at 28 percent compared with 25 percent in November.

"The media hype surrounding possible Y2K problems is not significantly affecting consumer purchase habits," said Peter Gold, director of consumer services at Harris Interactive, New York.

However, Gold noted that fears over crime were running higher - with 33 percent of population indicating concern.

That statistic mirrors information released last week by Greenfield Online, New York, which found in its latest NetPulse survey that 55 percent of online consumers expressed worries about fraud in relation to the White House's recently announced plans to study the feasibility of online voting in local and national elections. Greenfield Online said 19 percent of the participants indicated professional hackers were the biggest threat to the integrity of the process.

But such fears are by no means isolated to the U.S. population, or to elections:

The 1999 IBM Consumer Privacy Survey released earlier this month found that a whopping 94 percent of consumers in the United States, 78 percent in the United Kingdom and 72 percent in Germany said they think personal information is vulnerable to misuse, with 78 percent of American consumers, 58 percent of British consumers and 52 percent of German consumers claiming they have refused to give requested data to a business because they believed it too personal.

J.C. Slemp III, director of e-business security and privacy at IBM Global Services, said effective marketing in conjunction with good privacy protection and procedures is the wave of the future. "If a customer leaves your Web site without making a purchase because of a concern for privacy, then your privacy policies and procedures are not where they should be."

There also is indication from another study by CIO, a division of computer magazine publishing company International Data Group, Framingham, MA, that consumers and tech executives alike have similar online shopping phobias. According to the company's Internet Attitudes report, "both groups fear credit card fraud, telemarketers, loss of personal privacy, scams and stolen identity."

The CIO survey found that security was the leading concern among technology executives "with respect to their company's e-commerce activities." Yet, on a personal level, the same participants indicated even more concerns about Internet purchasing when it involved them as consumers. Both groups named fraudulent credit card use as their No. 1 concern (75 percent of consumers and 59 percent of technology executives). Other major concerns (for both groups) include having their names and addresses sold to direct marketers and loss of personal privacy because of stolen identity.

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