Survey reveals lagging net privacy

New research indicates Web sites still have a long way to go with regards to privacy issues, with most Australian sites waiting for the Privacy Bill, currently being debated by Federal Parliament, to be finalised before taking any action.

Andersen Legal has surveyed what it believes to be the Top 100 Web sites developed in Australia and compared the results to similar surveys overseas. The research concludes that Internet businesses need to review their privacy practices to ensure both compliance to the National Privacy Principles announced earlier this year, and the expectations of online consumers.

The survey indicates that at least three quarters of online sites gather or have the capacity to gather personal identifying information such as e-mail addresses, names, phone numbers, credit card details and street addresses that can be used to locate a person.

Over 40 per cent of the Top 100 sites collected information without the user's knowledge, using techniques such as cookies to track use of the site.

About 51per cent of the sites contained a privacy policy or Information Practice Statement (IPS) which describes what the webmaster does with the information that is gathered. Only 54.9 per cent of these more open sites actually go into the details of what specific information is collected.

Of the sites with a privacy policy in place, an alarming 71.1 per cent suggest that the webmaster does or may disclose user information on to third parties.

The studies show e-commerce Web sites are much more likely to gather user information than information Web sites, but only half of these e-commerce sites have posted any form of privacy policy. Considering e-commerce sites make up around three-quarters of Australia's top 100 sites, the Arthur Andersen researchers suggest that this is "unsatisfactorily low".

"e-commerce sites collect a higher proportion of personal information than other Web sites and the presence of a privacy policy is of paramount importance," the report stated. "There is a need for further development in this area and it is expected that the mandatory requirements under the [privacy] bill will see the problem rectified."

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