Be aware that consumers are skeptical about giving out personal information online. Ninety percent of respondents to a Business Week/Harris Poll survey reported they are very (65%) or somewhat (25%) concerned about the security of their personal financial information when it comes to buying a product online. I find this ironic, considering that most people seem to have no qualms about handing credit cards to shopkeepers, waiters and gas station attendants. Nevertheless, in business, perception is reality, so it’s up to business owners to make people feel comfortable about conducting business online.
If you want your site to be well liked by Net surfers, the best policy is to never sell, barter or trade information about your visitors or customers without their expressed permission in advance. Some companies who wish to reserve the option to provide customer information to other companies include a check box, which allows their visitors to give or deny permission to do so.
Personally, I prefer sites that ask as little about me as necessary. Stores don’t usually require people to fill out paperwork before letting them browse through a shop, so why make people register just to visit your site? If you must ask people information about themselves, avoid questions that make people uncomfortable such as their income or age, and make it clear to people why you need this information and what you plan to do with it.
* What information the site gathers or tracks.
* What the site does with the information it gathers or tracks.
* With whom the site shares the information it gathers or tracks.
* The site’s opt-out policy.
* The site’s policy on correcting and updating personally identifiable information.
Of special concern to the FTC and some consumer groups is the practice of collecting information directly from children without first asking for parental permission. Eighty-nine percent of the children’s sites in the FTC survey collect personal information from children, but only 23% tell children to seek parental permission before disclosing information.
The Center for Media Education, which has been at the forefront of this issue, has developed guidelines for the collection of information from children.
“Data collectors,” say the guidelines, “may not collect personal information from children, unless it is relevant, necessary and socially acceptable.”
The FTC report recommended legislation that would require site operators to obtain parental consent before information is collected from children under 12. For kids over 12, the agency wants to require that parents be told the site is collecting information about their kids and “give them the opportunity to remove the information from the site’s database.”
You can e-mail Lawrence J. Magid at email@example.com and visit his Web site at https://www.larrysworld.com. On AOL, use keyword “LarryMagid.”