Mixed Views on Privacy Self-Regulation

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While most online marketers have faith in their own company's ability to protect consumers' privacy, they are not so confident in their peers, according to a study released by Internet marketing firm, Responsys.com.

"[It's a classic case of] 'I don't need guidelines but the other guy needs guidelines,' " said Anand Jagannathan, president/CEO of Responsys.com, Palo Alto, CA.

After noticing what it deemed to be a significant gap in how privacy is perceived by consumers and businesses, Responsys commissioned marketing research firm Millward Brown IntelliQuest, Austin, TX, to conduct a survey of Internet marketers.

"We didn't just do this to say, 'Here's a study,' " said Jagannathan. "Our position after the study is that something has to be done about it."

The Web-based survey of 352 marketers at businesses with an online presence took place Aug. 29 to Aug. 31.

Ninety percent of participants said their own companies were adequately self-regulating their privacy practices. But only 46 percent believed self-regulation was working industrywide, and 36 percent said current self-regulation standards were adequately protecting consumers.

Also, 49 percent of respondents thought consumers felt that their privacy rights were being protected online. This figure differs from the results of a recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, Washington, in which 84 percent of consumers surveyed claimed to have privacy concerns.

In response to another question, about half of those surveyed said their companies had a privacy policy in place. Fifty-four percent of those with policies had made changes to them in the last six months. The most common reason for the updates was changing industry standards at 64 percent.

Meanwhile, 30 percent of the marketers said their company Web sites collected personal information for marketing purposes. Of those collecting personal information, just 10 percent said they shared data with third parties.

When asked about regulation, 61 percent thought government privacy regulation was inevitable. Sixty-four percent believed that government involvement would hurt the growth of e-commerce, yet 56 percent said government standards would either increase or not affect the number of online purchases.

As a result of the study, Responsys advocates the establishment of privacy guidelines by the Federal Trade Commission, which include elements of notice, permission, access, control and consistency.

In a letter to FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky, Jagannathan encouraged the organization to work with industry and consumer groups to establish such guidelines.

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