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An interesting and somewhat depressing report by the Annenberg Public Policy Center . Read it here.

The study, entitled “Open to Exploitation: American Shoppers Online and Offline“, has tidbits like this:

The study indicates that many adults who use the internet believe incorrectly that laws prevent online and offline stores from selling their personal information.

They also incorrectly believe that stores cannot charge them different prices based on what they know about them. Most other internet-using adults admit that they simply don’t know whether or not laws protect them.

The survey further reveals that the majority of adults who use the internet do not know where to turn for help if their personal information is used illegally online or offline.”

Then check these stats out:

• 75% do not know the correct response—false—to the statement, “When a website has a privacy policy, it means the site will not share my information with other websites and companies.”

• 64% of American adults who have used the internet recently do not know it is legal for “an online store to charge different people different prices at the same time of day.” 71% don’t know it is legal for an offline store to do that.

(If you’ve ever shopped at Dell, you know what I mean. We had one situation recently where I was shopping a laptop with a co-worker, who happened to be on another machine. His price was $50 higher than mine!)

• 68% of American adults who have used the internet in the past month believe incorrectly that “a site such as Expedia or Orbitz that compares prices on different airlines must include the lowest airline prices.”

• 49% could not detect illegal “phishing”—the activity where crooks posing as banks send emails to consumers that ask them to click on a link wanting them to verify their account.

• Consumers are also vulnerable to subtle forms of exploitation online and offline.

• 72% do not know that charities are allowed to sell their names to other charities even without permission.

• 64% do not know that a supermarket is allowed to sell other companies information about what they buy.

They suggest three policy initiatives:

• The Federal Trade Commission should require websites to drop the label Privacy Policy and replace it with Using Your Information.

• U.S. school systems—from elementary through high school—must develop curricula that tightly integrate consumer education and media literacy.

• The government should require retailers to disclose specifically what data they have collected about individual customers as well as when and how they use those data to influence interactions with them.

Worth a read. And as always, caveat emptor.

Alex Eckelberry
(Thanks to BeSpecific)

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