They don’t trust web merchants to keep their personal data secure, a report says.

Half of online consumers in the United States say they are concerned about their privacy, security and safety when they complete an online purchase, according to a new report from Forrester Research Inc. Shopping online was the activity that garnered the highest percentage (50%) of consumers who said they were concerned about their privacy and safety among 17 online behaviors rated.

The survey, conducted online during the third quarter of 2011 among more than 31,000 adults, also finds that just 16% of consumers believe online-only web merchants are trustworthy when it comes to keeping their personal information secure online. Slightly fewer, 15%, say they deem retailers with stores trustworthy. This is in contrast to consumers’ view of banks and investment companies; 43% of consumers say they trust these institutions to keep their personal information secure online. 39% say they don’t trust any type of company to keep their personal data secure online.

But while consumers are concerned about their security and few deem online retailers wholly trustworthy, these concerns aren’t stopping them from shopping on the web. 71% of U.S. adults have paid for products or services online in the last three months, Forrester says.

Consumers say their primary privacy, security and safety concern when it comes to the web is having their identity stolen (66%). 43% say they don’t want their information recorded or made available to others and 23% say they don’t want their information or online behavior tracked and shared with advertisers. The “How to Defuse Digital Marketing Privacy Concerns” report also finds that more consumers today are cognizant that their online browsing data may be used to target ads to them. 59% of online adults in the United States say they know companies purchase and use their personal information to send them targeted advertising, up from 50% a year ago. Slightly more than one in five (22%) of consumers say they are willing to share information about their interests to receive more relevant advertising.

The report recommends that companies that collect data tied to individuals clearly explain to consumers how they are using that data, and how the use of that data benefits the consumer, such as by enabling them to show consumers promotions relevant to them. “Ease [consumers’] fears by providing easy access to what information you have about them, reducing both the fear of the ‘unknown’ and letting them feel a sense of control,” Forrester says. 


Brian Walker, vice president and principal analysts at Forrester, will speak in June at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in a session titled “Leveraging a commerce platform in the era of the anywhere, anytime, any device consumer.”