Points & Possible Problems

Asher -- poll manipulation, question ambiguity, unreliability and bias in polls and polling

Question ambiguity -- "Overall, the polls and surveys assessing online privacy appear to treat privacy as a somewhat simplistic concept. ... define privacy in ambiguous terms, and little can be taken away of any relevant meaning for policy-makers or online marketers and content providers from these simplistic statements. Even when privacy is somewhat defined, rarely is context provided: for example, when consumers are asked about government accessing or monitoring information are they asking about accessing information about possible terrorists, or about one's self? The context would be likely to result in different answers from many individuals."

Different types of information collected leads to different answers when asked ... "a range of information types resulted in a range of responses about the information relative to privacy. Although the polls report a range of responses, not all information is the same: directory information appeared to be less of a concern than the collection of financial information and Social Security numbers."

1990 study -- James E. Katz and Annette R. Tassone -- ID'd two problems with using polls to gauge public view on privacy --
--define privacy in a simplistic way, while privacy has been seen as being a complex issue. Defining exactly what privacy is, though, is difficult in the online world where context can change with a click of a mouse button. Many debates over online privacy tend to focus on information privacy, which has been defined as a state or condition of limited access to individuals."

Question wording/order -- 1990 study -- James E. Katz and Annette R. Tassone -- ID'd two problems with using polls to gauge public view on privacy --
--framing of questions in the polls connect privacy to negative emotions -- 2 separate polls conducted at about the same time in the year 2000 examined whether the government should pass laws on Internet privacy. The results of the two polls differed depending on the way the poll questions were worded.
Poll #1 -- conducted by Harris in association with Business Week magazine -- three choices about government involvement and asked which would be best --
choice reading "government should pass laws now for how personal information can be collected and used on the Internet" was selected by 57 percent of respondents, while choices with less government involvement (not take action now or recommend privacy standards) were selected by far fewer people (15 percent and 21 percent, respectively).
Poll #2 -- sponsored by the Democratic Leadership Council (2000) -- which statement was closer to their view on the best way to protect privacy of personal medical and financial records. Almost two-thirds selected the viewpoint saying "give individuals more personal control over who sees their records" while only 29 percent said "pass strong federal restrictions."

Flaws in polls and polling -- structure, content, form
Inherent flaw -- people have to know what they are talking about if the polls are going to be used
"Poll results can create expectations, frame political discourse, and in the absence of strong and sustained reporting on the facts underlying an issue, polls can and do shape and create opinion."

Communication Theories --

Agenda setting -- "In regards specifically to privacy, it appears policy change often occurs when the public's attention has been focused on issues in response to critical events."

"Much of what policy makers know and understand about public orientations toward privacy will have been shaped to a large extent by what the media report about that opinion. This outcome reflects the increasing role that the media have come to play in making the results of these polls public. It also reflects a more active role being played by media organizations as the source, or sponsor, of those polls."

"Questions asked in opinion surveys may, for example, help establish the legitimacy of a policy framework or orientation, such as one that emphasizes the importance of "balancing" individual privacy against collective or institutional interests in using personal information. ... successful in placing a balancing task at the center of the policy agenda through references to public opinion that underscore the importance of balances or "tradeoffs," they may at the same time success in banishing equally important questions, such as those dealing with corporate responsibility, to the fringes of the policy debate."

Lippmann -- general public ill-quipped and misinformed, living in the pseudo-environment, not capable of governing

"A perennial controversy in democratic theory concerns the use of public opinion as an appropriate guide to policy formation. ... allows for representative democracy [vs.] dangers inherent in relying on public opinion that is often shallow and misinformed."

Numbers --

"Recent studies estimate that approximately 56% of Americans are now regular users of the Internet and, not only are more people going online every month, but the demographic diversity of Internet users is expanding as well."
"Interestingly, however, research finds that a major reason for not using the Internet is fears about online privacy and security. Although definitions of privacy abound in the literature, most include notions of anonymity, intrusion, surveillance, and autonomy."
"Regardless of the definition used, the reality is that many Web site operators do not entitle INternet users to much proivacy. Studies from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and from Georgetown University find that between 85% and 97% of Web sites collect at least one type of personal identifying information, such as one's name or e-mail address, often without user consent."
"With Web site operators making "private" information public, it is not surprising that Internet users are worried about their privacy rights while online. Some users have even begun to take drastic steps to protect their privacy. For example, in a study of over 15,000 Internet users, Hoffman, Novak and Peralta (1999) found that as many as 95% have declined to provide personal information or have fabricated information to avoid disclosing personal information online."

"estimates range from 57-92% of respondents indicating that they are either "very" or "somewhat" concerned about privacy when they go on the Internet" (1998-2001 examination)

Privacy Leadership Initiative poll (2001) --
66% -- "important" or "very important" for a policy to inform visitors of what personal information is collected
78% -- if/how personal information is used for marketing purposes
86% -- if/how information is shared with others

69-88% -- want Web sites to ask permission before collecting data about them

86% -- prefer opt-in policies
56% -- would always opt-out if given the choice

70-79% -- ability to review the data collected by Web site operators is "absolutely essential" or "very important"

FTC -- "five core principles of fair information practice" in 1998 report


First Monday, 7/5/2004 -- "How Public Opinion Polls Define and Circumscribe Online Privacy" -- Kim Bartel Sheehan
Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 2003 -- "Public Opinion and Policy Initiatives for Online Privacy Protection" -- Miriam J. Metzger, Sharon Docter
Journal of Social Issues, 2003 -- "Public Opinion Surveys and the Formation of Privacy Policy" -- Oscar H. Gandy, Jr.