87 percent of consumers question safety of personal information

Despite placing the security of their personal information as a top priority, many U.S. adults are unwittingly engaging in everyday activities that could put their privacy in jeopardy, according to a new study conducted by Harris Interactive.

Eighty-three percent of adults in the March 2008 survey agree that ensuring the security of their personal information is a top priority. Seventy-seven percent believe they know how to properly protect their personal information, while about half (51 percent) believe they are at low risk for their personal information to be used without their permission. However, the survey’s review of 12 everyday activities reveals a startling lack of awareness over how seemingly innocuous activities, such as entering a sweepstakes or filling out a warranty card, can actually compromise the security of personal information, including a person’s name, contact details, income and credit history.

In fact, more than half of U.S. adults are not aware of the risks associated with ten of the 12 potentially harmful activities – indicating a significant gap in understanding what could put people at risk for the unauthorized usage or sharing of their personal information, which can lead to greater junk mail volume, increased profiling without consent, and greater exposure to identity theft.

The survey was commissioned by ProQuo, a leading authority on privacy issues and a web-based company founded to give consumers meaningful choices over the use of their personal information.

Other potentially risky behaviors reviewed in the survey include applying for a credit card in a retail store, applying for a bank loan or home mortgage, signing up for a supermarket discount card, donating to political campaigns, requesting information about a product/service seen online, providing personal information to a web site without reviewing its privacy policy, and enrolling in a rewards program, such as frequent flyer or hotel points programs.
Non-marketing activities that increase risk, such as having a baby or getting married, were also included in the survey.

Survey results show that nearly three in four adults (73 percent) entered a sweepstakes in the past six months, but less than half (48 percent) were aware that doing so can put their personal information at risk. In addition, 69 percent were unaware that donating to a political campaign could compromise control over personal information, while 64 percent were unaware of the risk associated with completing and returning a warranty or product registration card.

Other key findings of the survey include:

  • Eighty-seven percent of adults believe their personal information, such as name, address, email, age, income, credit rating and purchasing preferences, are only somewhat, slightly, or not at all secure.
  • About one in four adults (26 percent) are not aware that providing their personal information to a web site without reviewing its privacy policy can lead to their information being used or shared without their permission.
  • Thirty-eight percent requested information about a product or service they saw online and nearly half (47 percent) have completed and returned a warranty or product registration card in the past six months.

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