New Study of Consumer Privacy and Survey Data Available

Washington, D.C., June 22, 2001—Competitive Enterprise Institute scholar Solveig Singleton and editor James Harper today released the final version of their new study on consumer privacy surveys containing startling conclusions about what consumers really want. The study, “With a Grain of Salt: What Consumer Privacy Surveys Don’t Tell Us,” shows that one of the most frequently used kinds of evidence in the debate over privacy regulations—the consumer survey—is at best a flawed tool for policy making.

“Consumer privacy surveys tell us little or nothing about the right thing to do about privacy. There are few issues where polling and demagoguery threaten to dominate the debate in Congress to the extent it does in federal privacy policy,” said CEI senior policy analyst Solveig Singleton. “Privacy surveys have generally prompted, pushed, or pulled respondents to consider ‘privacy’ as a generic issue with a generic solution.”

Ms. Singleton and Mr. Harper found that with a subject as difficult to define as privacy, survey questions are likely to distort or manipulate answers. Because of difficulties with definition, many different concepts are grouped together under the heading of “privacy,” including security, identity fraud, spam, and other crimes and inconveniences. Also, surveys do not reveal any hard data about the real costs and benefits of information sharing itself, or of the laws proposed to govern it.

An electronic version of the study “With a Grain of Salt: What Consumer Privacy Surveys Don’t Tell Us” is available here. To obtain a printed copy of the study, please call CEI at 202-331-1010. The study was also recently entered into the Congressional Record.

CEI is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government. For more information, please contact the media relations department at [email protected] or 202-331-1010.