For Immediate Release
May 8, 2001
Contact: Jim Harper
Study Shows Defects in Using Poll Results for Policy-Making
today analyzing the value of public opinion polls and surveys in policy-making. The draft
study, soon to be issued by the Competitive
Enterprise Institute, is titled With a Grain of Salt: What Consumer Privacy Surveys Don't Tell
The authors reviewed 23 public opinion surveys on the topic of privacy. They
conclude that polls and surveys are very limited tools for policy-makers.
Release of the study coincides with a hearing on public opinion surveys and privacy
scheduled by the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.
the study concludes. It finds that most polls do not elicit clear answers on public
attitudes about privacy. Polls and surveys neither offer consumers
real-world choices, nor do they explore the range of policy options that could
address identified privacy problems.
The study is the joint authorship of Solveig Singleton, Senior Analyst at the
Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Jim Harper, Editor of Privacilla.org.
"The advocates of special Internet regulation are big fans of privacy polls," Mr.
Harper said. "Unfortunately, they confuse a lot of legitimate Information-Age concerns.
This stifles progress on real solutions. It also draws attention away from the most serious
threat to privacy, involuntary collection and use of citizen data by governments."
"Many polls lump security, identity fraud, credit card fraud, spam, Web cookies,
marketing practices, and traditional privacy concerns into one confusing mass," said Harper.
The study also compares consumer-reported actions with respect to cookies and
Web site privacy policies against available measurements of consumers' true actions.
Consumers mis-report their actions to poll-takers quite dramatically, drawing into
question other poll findings.
The study further reveals how dramatically flawed a 1999 Jupiter Communications
prediction of e-commerce trends was. This prediction, relied on uncritically by the
Federal Trade Commission in a report calling for Internet regulation by the federal
government, sharply overestimated the role consumer privacy fears would play in
hindering the growth of e-commerce.
"With justification, some politicians have been criticized for replacing leadership
with a 'finger in the wind,'" the study notes. The study suggests that policy-makers should
examine the privacy issue more deeply and make decisions using proven facts and their
own judgment, rather than poll numbers.
Privacilla.org (http://www.privacilla.org) is a Web site that captures privacy
as a public policy issue from a free-market, pro-technology perspective. It has
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