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Home > Privacy Fundamentals > Privacy Polls

Privacy Polls

Polls and surveys become a common tool for policy makers and advocates dealing with privacy. Political, legal, and idea leadership should not be replaced with a "finger in the wind," however. There is much more to responsible policy-making than tabulating the results of public opinion polls.

Responsible policy-makers are right to be skeptical of the idea that good policy consists merely of following survey results. Polls and surveys should not begin or end the discussion of privacy policy.

Privacy is a difficult subject to define, so survey questions are likely to distort or manipulate answers. They often group many different concepts under the heading of "privacy," including security, identity fraud, spam, and other crimes and inconveniences. Trade-offs between privacy and other consumer desires are rarely offered.

Polls and surveys certainly do not effectively replicate the choices that consumers make in the real world. Indeed, the only truly unbiased and accurate poll is the marketplace, where consumers take actions that are consistent with their interests and values.

Most importantly, surveys do not reveal the proper solutions to what problems they identify. Polls consider neither the full range of policy options, nor the legal and economic consequences of each one. Characterizations of polls showing "support" for a particular type of legislation should be dismissed out of hand.


With a Grain of Salt: What Privacy Surveys Don't Tell Us by Solveig Singleton, Senior Analyst, Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Jim Harper, Editor, (June 2001)

Why Policymakers Should Ignore Public Opinion Pollsby Robert Weissberg, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana; Cato Institute Policy Analysis (May 29, 2001)

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[updated 07/25/01]

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