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Home > Past Releases and Reports > Privacilla Releases Draft CEI Study of Opinion Surveys and Privacy Policy

For Immediate Release

May 8, 2001

Contact: Jim Harper

(202) 486-0824

Privacilla Releases Draft CEI Study of Opinion Surveys and Privacy Policy

Study Shows Defects in Using Poll Results for Policy-Making

Washington, D.C. Web-based privacy policy think-tank released a study 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 Us.

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.

"Polls and surveys should not begin or end the discussion of federal privacy policy," 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

"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. ( is a Web site that captures privacy as a public policy issue from a free-market, pro-technology perspective. It has been described as a "privacy policy portal" and an "online think-tank."


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