Annenberg Survey Not Good Basis for Policy Action, Expert Says
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today’s call by the Annenberg Public Policy Center for stringent new federal Internet privacy legislation, though well intentioned and appealing in a rhetorical sense, should be resisted, according to a principal author of a national study of online privacy. In addition, he says an Annenberg poll released Wednesday should be subject to scrutiny.
“Today’s claim by [the Annenberg Center’s] Joseph Turow, that ‘the system is more broken than ever’ is simply incorrect,” says Thomas M. Lenard, senior fellow and vice president for research at The Progress & Freedom Foundation. “Our study, based on information collected and tabulated by Ernst and Young, found the opposite – privacy practices of commercial web sites are improving in response to consumer concerns. Legislation of the type recommended by Turow would impose large costs on the functioning of our information-based market economy and on consumers.”
Privacy Online: A Report on the Internet Practices and Policies of Commercial Web Sites, was released last year at a briefing featuring FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris and other commissioners. It found that practices and policies of commercial web sites are “continuing to evolve, and, by at least some criteria, to improve.” Among its 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,” concluded 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.
Turow “fails to address the question of whether there are ‘market failures’ in the commercial market for personal information,” says Lenard, whose book, Privacy and the Commercial Use of Personal Information, found no such failures and no evidence of consumer harm from ‘too much’ information. The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the impact of the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1993.