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Engaging Privacy and Information Technology in a Digital Age
to businesses linking records on their customers. Using the anchoring vignette approach described in Section 2.4 (see Box 2.2), a possible survey question might be, How much do businesses respect [your/“Name’s”] privacy? Here are a number of possible vignettes:
[Jerry] signs up for an account at the local video store. The rental record is shared with the affiliated video store in a neighboring city.
[Suzanne] signs up for an account at the local video store. The store shares her rental record with the affiliated local music store, which begins to send [Suzanne] coupons for soundtrack CDs of movies that she has rented.
[Roderick] sees a doctor to treat an illness. The doctor calls in the prescription to the pharmacy via a shared database. [Roderick] begins to receive advertisements from the pharmacy for drugs that treat his illness.
[Anne’s] bank shares information about its customers’ income and spending habits, including those of [Anne], with its investment division. [Anne] now regularly receives investment advertisements related to her recent purchases.
A parent company creates a database with consumer information obtained from its subsidiary companies. The database contains information on people’s spending habits at grocery stores, cable TV usage, telephone calls, and the Internet surfing of many consumers, including [Marie]. The company offers this information for free on its Web site, although in a de-identified form.
As indicated in the above vignette, information originally collected for one reason can be used for many different reasons—a practice known as repurposing. Individuals may be unaware of how their information is used or what the fine print they supposedly have agreed to actually means.2 The information collector may be disingenuous in describing how information will be used. Information may be fraudulently obtained (as in cases of identity theft) and used for purposes clearly unanticipated by its original provider. And, in many instances, a new use for information occurs simply because a clever individual or an innovative organization discovers or invents a way that information already collected and on
The “fine print” of published privacy policies is a well-known issue. Many privacy policies are written in a way that requires college-level reading scores to interpret. See, for example, Mark Hochhauser, “Lost in the Fine Print: Readability of Financial Privacy Notices,” Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, July 2001, available at http://www.privacyrights.org/ar/GLB-Reading.htm.