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One such survey was Georgia Tech’s World Wide Web User Survey, which was executed ten times between 1994 and 1998 [137]. The Fifth GVU survey (April 1996) asked three general questions about privacy notices and information. Over the following years, the range of questions about privacy and security grew, with the last survey containing 37 detailed questions on topics ranging from reporting security breaches to clearinghouse organizations, to children’s online privacy. Results of the Tenth GVU survey (October 1998) show that the majority of surveyed internet users were very concerned about privacy and security in e-commerce, and that most favored the availability of FIPS-inspired data protection mechanisms such as collection notification and disclosure control. Participants in the GVU surveys were also grouped in three geographic regions (USA, Europe, and the rest of the world), but responses were similar across geographical areas.

The 1999 IBM Multi-National Consumer Privacy Study also probed consumers’ perceptions across three large industrialized economies: the US, UK and Germany [141]. IBM’s survey is interesting because in a joint project, the manufacturer also surveyed executives in “high privacy risk” industries, including the health care, financial services, insurance, and retail industries. This survey showed that executives generally underestimated consumers’ privacy concerns. The survey also indicated that more tech-savvy and educated respondents were more aware and more concerned about potential privacy violations online. Finally, respondents indicated the desire for notification mechanisms and an overall concern for privacy.

Subsequent research has however shown that privacy notices only partially assuage user concerns; well-known and reputable brands remain the most effective communication tools for this purpose. In 2003, Baumer et al. surveyed 415 individuals via email, probing their likelihood of disclosing information on e-commerce web sites as a function of the availability of privacy seals, privacy notices, and of the demographics of the respondents [36]. They found that respondents were more willing to reveal personal information in several categories to well-known web sites as compared to less well-known web sites. The presence of privacy policies and privacy seals only provided a marginal benefit, possibly due to skepticism regarding compliance. Baumer et al. argue that it is important to situate privacy questions with sufficient context to elicit reasonably accurate answers. Baumer et al.’s survey included a scenario before the actual questions to help situate the responses rather than leaving the decision context to the imagination of the user.

Since the late 1990’s, many of the best practices indicated by these surveys have been widely adopted by e-commerce operators. IT manufacturers, such as IBM and Microsoft, still claim that privacy concerns are limiting the growth of online business, especially after several high-profile scandals [159, 209]. These manufacturers advocate stronger and uniform privacy protection legislation in countries that lack it, such as the United States.

3.1.3 Instant Messaging, Environmental Privacy, and Personal Availability

One aspect of online personal privacy relates to one’s availability to communicate with others. New communication media alter the way individuals offer themselves to communication, based on the affordances of the medium. Two such media that have enjoyed widespread adoption in recent years are SMS and Instant Messaging (IM).

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