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The Need for Control: Personal Information Online

Nitin Sumangali |

When Marissa Mayer spoke at Davos this year, she mentioned that the core principles of privacy online are transparency, choice, and control. This was part of a larger conversation about the role large companies like Yahoo, Google, and Facebook have in controlling consumers’ personal information. However, a recent poll conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Microsoft Corp. shows that nearly half of Americans don’t feel that they have that control.

When asked how much control they have over the personal information gathered by companies when they browse the web or use online services, 33 percent of U.S. adults said they had little control and 12 percent said they had no control. Even for the information consumers actively share through online shopping, email, or social media rather than what is gathered through browsing, 19 percent of adults believe they have little control over that information while 5 percent believe they have no control.

Global Insights has written about this issue in the past, but when these polls are combined with public statements like Marissa Mayer’s at Davos, the question comes into sharp relief. It’s critical for people who use the web and are sharing their information to have a better understanding of what that information is used for. People need to know how the data that they directly share and the data that is collected in the background is used to provide them with services, how it is stored, and under what conditions it is made accessible.

Without this kind of knowledge, users are unable to determine if they’re getting sufficient value in exchange for their information. The companies that collect, store, and use information from consumers should be clear about how this data is used because it’s critical that people have confidence that their information is being used properly, but also because companies providing web services must clearly demonstrate the value they are offering users in exchange for their information in a way users can understand and make decisions about.

The importance of expressing these issues openly is underscored by the poll conducted by Ipsos. It notes that only 22 percent of respondents trust a website’s privacy statements and 20 percent trust a company’s privacy policy. Without clear and forthright communications between companies and users, low confidence numbers like these may render certain internet applications unsustainable in the future.

Topics: Big Data, Economic Outlook

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