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    Op-Ed at Ad Age: Behavior Aside, Consumers Do Want Control of Their Privacy

    In an opinion column at Ad Age, University of Pennsylvania professor Joseph Turow discusses consumers and privacy rights:’

    An interesting eMarketer report, “The Digital Privacy Dilemma,” concludes that while consumers say they don’t care about digital privacy, marketers would be unwise to ignore the unease consumers really feel about it.

    Lead author Mark Dolliver suggests Americans are self-contradictory about marketers’ use of their information. It’s a view I also hear in discussions with digital-media practitioners. “People may claim to worry about privacy issues,” they say, “but look at what they actually do online … willingly surrendering personal information for a coupon or in a Facebook discussion. The disconnect between what people say and do shows that policymakers and academics misjudge the extent to which the public really cares about the use of data about them by marketers.”

    This is an important argument that must be taken seriously. My overall response is that the gap between what people say and do doesn’t mean they are two-faced when it comes to privacy. Rather, my research suggests the public’s seemingly contradictory behavior is rooted in fundamental difficulties that marketers, publishers and policymakers must confront. Consider:

    Americans have only a superficial knowledge about how marketers use data. My national phone surveys going back to 1999 show that the majority of Americans know companies follow them, but they have little understanding of data mining or targeting. They also think the government protects them more than it does regarding the misuse of their information and against price discrimination. […]

    Privacy policies are often “take it or leave it” propositions. Even if someone tried to plow through the verbiage, that admirable soul would not be rewarded. Most privacy policies are what I call “tough luck” contracts: “You either accept how we use your data, or you leave.” Sites’ approaches to cookies also fit this pattern, telling visitors the site may not work properly if cookies are disabled. Web executives clearly know it’s hard for people to leave sites that play important parts in their lives, so they typically don’t feel it’s worth their while to give people choices when it comes to sharing data with marketers.

    Many of the most prominent digital-marketing actors engage in public doubletalk. Consider how Google told its users about its decision — controversial with advocacy groups and potentially the FTC — to link information about their activities across its most-popular services and multiple devices. Perhaps to blunt such criticism, the company emblazoned its search page and other holdings with statements such as “This stuff matters” or “Not the same yada yada.” But if you clicked Google’s link to learn more, the urgency evaporated. The language gave no sense that beginning March 1, to quote the Los Angeles Times, “the only way to turn off the data sharing is to quit Google.” Instead, clickers saw the comforting statement that the policy would reflect “our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google.”

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