Most Web Surfers Oblivious to Web Site Collection of Personal Data

March 8, 2008 – 2:20 PM

U.S. Internet users are often unsuspecting of what goes on behind the scenes of their favorite Web sites. According to data from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, 57 percent of U.S. Internet users incorrectly believe that when a Web site has a privacy policy, it will not share their personal information with other sites or companies. This misconception, among others, underscores the lack of education Internet users have about data flows, what the study calls, “…the invisible, cutting edge techniques whereby online organizations extract, manipulate, append, profile and share information about people online are part and parcel of how Web sites operate.”

While 59 percent know that Web sites collect information about them even if they don’t register, they don’t understand that data flows behind their screens invisibly connect seemingly unrelated bits about them. When presented with a common version of the way sites track, extract, and share information to make money from advertising, 85 percent of adults who go online at home said they would not accept it on even a valued site.

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