Two reports have recently been released that look at consumer perceptions of online privacy issues and examine user tracking practices on popular websites.

TRUSTe Privacy Index

TRUSTe released its Privacy Index for the second quarter of 2012, which measures consumer confidence in their online privacy.  The numbers show that consumers are concerned about web privacy issues and make decisions based on perceptions of companies’ privacy practices.

Consumer concern and mistrust about online privacy are up from Q1.  In the latest Privacy Index, 91% of U.S. adults say they worry about their privacy online (versus 90% in Q1), and 53% say they do not completely trust businesses with their information (versus 41% in Q1). 

The percent of adults that say privacy issues impact their buying decisions has remained steady.  88% of adults say they avoid companies that they believe do not protect their privacy.

Web Privacy Census, Berkeley Center for Law and Technology

Researchers at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology have announced a new quarterly reporting program that looks at web tracking, called the Web Privacy Census.  The report examines user tracking practices for the Quantcast top 100, 1,000, and 25,000 websites.  The June 2012 report found that 100% of the top 100, 97.4% of the top 1000, and 87% of the top 25,000 websites tracked users with cookies. 

The report also notes that trends in tracking technology include increased use of calls to HTML5 local storage, and declining use of Flash cookies.  HTML5 local storage is a way for web pages to store data within the user’s web browser, without automatically transmitting the data to a remote web server upon each server request as with cookies.

The report looks at tracking in absolute terms and does not compare websites’ tracking practices against their consumer privacy disclosures.

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These reports suggest two action items for companies operating online.  First, consumers are thinking about online privacy issues, and consumers’ perceptions of companies’ privacy practices affect their online activity.  Companies may want to consider making sure that their privacy practices are disclosed in accessible, easy-to-understand formats, so that consumers are accurately informed and not acting on unfounded concerns about the way their information is handled.  Second, researchers are increasingly paying attention to, and publicizing, websites’ user tracking practices.  Companies may want to consider conducting privacy audits of their web properties to make sure that their privacy disclosures match their practices.