Consumer Online Privacy
To what extent is the collection, compilation, sale or use of personally identifying, as opposed to aggregate, personal information important for marketing online and for market research? What privacy concerns, if any, are raised by the collection or use of aggregate personal information in this context?
Figure 1 shows under what terms and conditions individuals would provide personal information to WWW sites stratified by gender. While much of the results contained in this graph will be dicussed further in other sections, it is important to note that consumers are not necessarily opposed to information being collected at Web sites when that information is used in aggregate. Over 55% of the respondents indicated that they would provide personal information to sites if the information were only used in aggregate. There is basic agreement on this point across gender as well as age stratification (see Figure 2), with an exception being that the elder generation shows a stronger preference for the data only to be used in aggregate form (63.61% 50+ yr. olds versus 52.52% 19-25 yr. olds).
Furthermore, it is unclear that amount of overhead involved with storing and computing different profiles on an individual basis is the best approach for direct online marketing. For the sites that support advertising, which is not the majority, daily traffic of several million visitors per day is not uncommon. It has yet to be empirically determined whether direct online marketing to individuals is more effective than marketing at the aggregate level, as research into meaningful methods to aggregate individual WWW data is just beginning (see [Tak Woon Yan, Matthew Jacobsen, Hector Garcia-Molina, and Umeshwar Dayal. From User Access Patterns to Dynamic Hypertext Linking. Proceedings of the Fifth International World Wide Web Conference, Paris, France, May 1996]). As a result, research that studies individuals and their behavior ought to be able to continue. It is worthwhile to mention that while current practice attempts the collection of data for all individuals, sampling techniques as described in [James Pitkow. In Search of Reliable Usage Data on the WWW. Proceedings of the Sixth International World Wide Web Conference, Santa Clara, CA. April 1997] may not only be more reliable statistically, but also can enhance the privacy of more users than current practice.
Figure 1. The terms and conditions for revealing personal information to WWW sites. Respondents would provide sites with information under the following conditions: a statement were provided as to how the information was going to be used ("How Used"), a statements was provided about what information was being collected ("Info Gotten"), if the collected data were only used in aggregate ("Aggregated"), in exchange for some value added service ("For Service"), in exchange for access to the site ("Access to Site"), for a discount at the sites store ("Discount"), for some other reason ("Other"), and that they would not provide personal information to a site ("Not Do"). Respondents were allowed to check more than one answer for this question.