Marketers on the Internet are walking a fine line between users' privacy rights and their own desire to use now-abundant demographic and consumer information.
"There's a different emotion that's involved with commerce online, with more fear than [in] any other medium," said Russell Sapienza, a partner with Coopers & Lybrand and a representative of an industry-watchdog group called TrustE, at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Enterprise Forum in New York last week. "Some of that is created by the press, some by the technology and some is just human nature."
Content providers such as Time Inc. New Media and software company Firefly Networks are creating privacy policies disclosing to consumers exactly what information is collected and how it will be used.
But a recent study by Market Facts found that more than 80% of the 1,000 adults polled were very or somewhat concerned about privacy and security if personal or financial information was put on the Internet.
A HIGHER STANDARD
"The Internet has indeed been held to a higher standard than other media," said Saul Klein, senior VP-brand and strategy at Firefly, which recommends products to online users based on consumer profile information it collects.
"I think the Web is going to start driving a new trend both online and offline where individuals are going to become empowered with the control and use of their information."
Mr. Klein believes more stringent privacy policies and practices are a competitive advantage for companies on the Web.
The policy also says the company may use the information for editorial purposes or for marketing and promotional purposes, which may be shared with other prescreened companies.
"We come to the e-commerce marketplace with a track record and a reputation. We have far more to lose in our reputation than anything we could gain" by breaching the privacy of consumers, said Julie Fenster, Time Inc. New Media VP-law and business affairs.
Copyright December 1997, Crain Communications Inc.