ing actually reduces the amount of extraneous marketing received by a consumer by enabling solicitation that can be targeted to only those more likely to respond to it as determined by the interests shown in the shared information. The alternative is to ensure that the solicitations are sent to everyone, rather than a targeted set.

Finally, the financial sector presents a number of good examples to illustrate the need for tradeoffs. The discussion above makes clear at least a rough societal consensus that financial information is sensitive and is deserving of considerable privacy protection. At the same time, criminal elements often interact with financial institutions, and law enforcement authorities have found financial information to be of enormous value in apprehending and prosecuting criminals. Thus, a number of laws enable law enforcement agencies to obtain personal financial information under appropriately authorized circumstances. Laws related to the reporting of large cash transactions (in excess of $10,000) are also intended to discourage money laundering, even though a privacy interest might well be asserted in such transactions.


The attempts by financial institutions to provide better service (and to cut their own costs) through the gathering and mining of information about their customers have been mirrored by similar efforts in the retail industry. Whether in online e-commerce or the bricks-and-mortar retail trade, the gathering of information about the buying habits and past histories of customers has led to efficiencies in retail businesses, but also to concerns about the privacy of the individuals about whom the information is gathered.

Although many different schemes have been used to collect information about consumers, the dimension of privacy that these affect is fairly straightforward to understand. As a point of departure, consider the issue of privacy as it relates to merchants collecting information from shoppers. Using the anchoring vignette approach, a possible survey question might be, How much privacy [do you/does “Name”] have from merchants while shopping? Here are a number of possible vignettes:

  1. [Susan] pays cash at a large, crowded department store and provides no information about herself to the cashier.

  2. [Mary] pays with cash at a convenience store. The clerk insists on recording her zip code on the computer-generated receipt.

  3. [Carmen] pays with her credit card at the convenience store. The clerk insists that she provide picture identification, as well as her telephone number to record on the transaction slip.

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