Abstract - The Information Society 18(5)

Using the Content of Online Privacy Notices to Inform Public Policy: A Longitudinal Analysis of the 1998-2001 U.S. Web Surveys

George R. Milne & Mary Culnan

In the U.S., Congress has had a long-standing interest in consumer privacy and the extent to which company practices are based on fair information practices. Previously, public policy was largely informed by anecdotal evidence about the effectiveness of industry self-regulatory programs. However, the Internet has made it possible to unobtrusively sample Web sites and their privacy disclosures in a way that is not feasible in the offline world. Beginning in 1998, the Federal Trade Commission relied upon a series of three surveys of Web sites to assess whether organizations post online privacy disclosures and whether these disclosures represent the U.S. definition of fair information practices. While each year's survey has provided an important snapshot of U.S. Web site practices, there has been no longitudinal analysis of the multi-year trends. This study compares a subset of equivalent individual level Web site data for the 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 Web surveys. Implications for using this type of research to inform public policy are discussed.

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