Web Sites Collect Less Info, Provide More Notice & Choice
WASHINGTON, D.C. - A new national survey of commercial Internet sites suggests that online privacy practices and policies are “continuing to evolve, and, by at least some criteria, to improve.” Some of the most notable changes are in such consumer hot-button areas as third party information sharing and the use of third-party ‘cookies’, according to the report released by The Progress & Freedom Foundation.
Released at a National Press Club briefing featuring Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy J. Muris and other Commissioners, the survey, Privacy Online: A Report on the Internet Practices and Policies of Commercial Web Sites, is based on information collected and tabulated by Ernst & Young. The new data are directly comparable to those contained in a May 2000 FTC report, offering a means of measuring progress on the privacy front. Among the most important findings:
Web sites are collecting less information. Among the most popular 100 domains, the proportion collecting personal information fell from 96 to 84 percent, while the proportion using third-party cookies to track surfing behavior fell from 78 to 48 percent. “By every relevant measure, the extent of online information collection has declined since May 2000,” concludes the Foundation’s report.
Privacy notices are more prevalent, more prominent and more complete, and more sites offer choice, especially over whether information can be shared with third parties. The percentage of top-100 sites offering third-party choice jumped from 77 to 93. And the use of “opt-in” as a method of choice more than doubled, from 15 percent to 32 percent.
P3P adoption is off to a rapid start, but seal programs are growing relatively slowly. Only a few months after the technology first became available, nearly one out of four top-100 sites had implemented P3P. Privacy seals, on the other hand, are still displayed by less than half of all top-100 sites and only about one of eight smaller sites.
“The changes we have identified are evolutionary, not revolutionary,” said PFF President Jeffrey A. Eisenach, a co-author of the report. “But from a consumer perspective, they are all in the right direction.”
The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.