Honesty about E-Privacy, Truly the Best Policy

Pop quiz time. Harris Interactive reported this week that only 3 percent of consumers bother to read online privacy policies when they visit new sites.

That means either that (a) consumers are feeling so safe and secure about shopping online they don’t care to read all that legalese — or (b) that consumers who turn to the Web for convenience aren’t about to spend the time they save not driving to the mall, and searching for a parking spot, reading a five-page privacy policy written by the law firm of Keep M. Confused.

If you answered (a), you are in good company. It’s obvious that the vast majority of e-tailers think that’s the answer as well. Why else would they so stubbornly refuse to make it easy for consumers to get Web privacy information and, gasp, to opt-out of having their personal information become a commodity?

If you chose answer (b), however, you may be a lot closer to the truth. Web sites are engaged in a war of attrition with consumers, wearing down their resolve over time. But the dirty little secret is that everybody loses.

Just One Question

Take a look at the UCLA study that cited “deep concerns” about privacy as a barrier to additional online sales. That anvil should have landed on the heads of e-tailers with a resounding thud. But alas, they keep on walking the walk.

Now, I don’t argue that privacy policies are easily condensed into a one-paragraph statement that can be posted on the home page of an e-tailer. Legal documents are, by nature and definition, resistant to simplification.

The idea of checklists and summaries is nice. But consumers really only have one question: Will my information be shared? The short answer to that question could fit on just about any home page out there.

Trick Question?

So pop quiz time again: Are businesses not explaining their policy on sharing data collected online because (a) they don’t think consumers care or (b) they’ve got something to hide?

The correct answer here is (c) it doesn’t matter. Whatever the reason, it’s a not good enough reason for the practice of obscuring e-privacy policies to continue. A cynic would argue that e-tailers don’t want consumers to know just how eager businesses are to accumulate an overflowing database of customer info. It’s like an ace in the hole, a hedge against going broke.

But even if the reason is that these nice sites don’t want customers to be over-burdened by having to read all this information when all they really want to do is shop, that flimsy rationale doesn’t cut it.

Trust Issues

Give us the information and let us make the decision. Instead of posting the policy front-and-center, post a link to the answers I’m really looking for. Make it clear and make it readable.

The fact is, most consumers will go right on buying anyway. They’re in a hurry, for one thing. Above all, though, they want to trust the people with whom they do business. That, too, is human nature.

And on that count, at least, it’s time to give the people what they want.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

1 Comment

  • Our Privacy Policy is to make sure your information stays private.

    We’ve been doing this since the internet dark ages. We’ve had a strict privacy policy since before it was fashionable and it’s always been as simple as stated above (or at our site: We also take serious steps to actually implement these privacy protections by paying attention to security and both internal and external information access controls within our operations.

    The reason so many sites obscure it is because they DO WANT TO SHARE AND SELL YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION but they don’t want you to know it.

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