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Online privacy concerns wrestled

It is agreed – the Internet brings with it the ability to personalise marketing faster and more easily than ever before, but privacy is becoming an issue.

As Novell chairman and CEO Eric Schmit pointed out at the Comdex IT expo in Las Vegas, the Internet allows us to “look at the world one person at a time.”

Data mining companies and customer relationship management software are assisting companies in reaching the ultimate goals in individually tailored marketing campaigns.

Procuring Internet users’ personal information has lead to a veritable plethora of elaborate schemes.

They range from the illicit use of free software giveaways with individual global locators such as the ones used in Real Network’s RealJukebox or overly gushy e-mails which ask to be passed on to your ten best friends but are designed to collect both your and your best friends’ e-mail addresses, websites which ask to be personalised to competitions which ask for personal information in exchange for cash, cars or commodity trading information.

While there are those surfing the web who are not concerned about their personal information being bandied about the net, research has shown that many others are.

The Australian Federal Government’s proposed legislation for the protection of privacy in the private sector cites some interesting statistics in its September 1999 information paper (http://law.gov.au/infopaper/infopaper.html).

For example, a recent Boston Consulting Group survey found that “for approximately 42 per cent of consumers surveyed, privacy concerns played a large part in their decision not to give up registration information on websites.

For 27 per cent of consumers surveyed, privacy concerns led them to provide false information.”

The Roy Morgan Research Center reported that “56 per cent of Australians are worried about invasion of privacy issues created by new information technologies”.

Putting this in cash terms, Forrester Research claims that online shopping lost $US1.9 billion in 1999 due to online privacy fears, urging them to state “privacy is a right not a privilege.”

The Federal Government’s privacy protection legislation has been prompted by the realisation that “to take advantage of new technologies consumers must have confidence in how business will deal with the information they provide.”

Due to electronic commerce, business is becoming increasing global and the paper goes on to state that “any business which collects, holds or uses personal information, and which competes in the international sphere, is aware that the assurance that privacy will be protected is increasingly a requirement of international trade”.

In setting a legal and regulatory framework for the protection of privacy, the Government hopes to boost e-commerce by increasing the confidence of users.

Data mining and information collection will further personalise the Internet users’ experience and marketing campaigns will become increasingly individualised.

However, the means by which businesses will be allowed to collect and use an individual’s data will be subject to regulation, with adequate redress mechanisms in place.

l Raphe Patmore is a senior executive with Q Multimedium.

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