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Source: Internet Week

Posted on July 11, 2001

      U.S. online users view the Internet as a tool for information instead of shopping and trading stocks and they want more of a say in their cyber-future, the Markle Foundation said in a study released Tuesday.

      Americans want to participate in how the Internet is governed and want other professionals and institutions to be a part of cyber governance and accountability, so users will have more protection and control when they go online, the New York-based philanthropy said.

      The yearlong study, "Toward a Framework for Internet Accountability," comes at a time of intense debate over key Internet policies, such as privacy and strategies to hasten high-speed access rollout. About 63 percent of U.S. adults now use the Internet, up from 39 percent in 1998.

      But 45 percent of users said their image of the Internet was that of a "library" as opposed to 17 per cent who compared it to a "shopping mall" or "banking and investment office."

      "The Internet is an increasingly important part of the lives of the American people," said Markle Foundation President ZoŽ Baird. "This research shows that they have an appreciation for the complexities involved in tackling the critical questions that will affect decisions about the Internet," she said.

      The economic and financial meltdown of dotcoms did not translate to a downturn in users' views of the future of the Internet. The overwhelming majority still considers the Internet as an engine of growth, the study said.

      But users describe a trust deficit in cyberspace, Stan Greenberg, CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, which conducted the study. The researcher polled 2,000 users over the telephone and via the Internet and held a series of focus group sessions with the public and Internet executives and software engineers.

      Online users would like themselves, non-profits, technology experts, business, and government to participate in directing the Internet. And 64 percent said they want government to take a lead role in rule making to create accountability stemming from the public's wish for "institutions with teeth," Greenberg said.

      "The goal of rule making is to preserve the broad access to information," he said. The study found that users' biggest concerns were children's access to pornography and violence, followed by distrust of the privacy afforded their information online

      The majority thinks it is still less safe to use a credit card or send medical information over the Internet than offline, Greenberg said. And 54 percent said they don't have the same protections and rights on the Internet that they do offline. Even 41 percent of experts agreed they don't have equal protections online as offline.

      Half of those surveyed said the Internet is ungovernable and cannot be held accountable. Slightly over half said businesses could not be trusted to regulate themselves online. But users were also wary of government regulation. On data collection, 58 percent said they want explicit permission to use their information. "People are looking for the ability to control their information in the absence of trust," Greenberg said.

      "A growing number of users understand that rules apply to the Internet as well," Greenberg said, noting that 60 percent of those surveyed called for rules to encourage accountability, even if it included government regulation. As much as users were skeptical about the government, they were interested in having Congress enact protective rules because lawmakers were accountable to voters, Greenberg said.

      The public placed the highest value on non-profit organizations for setting rules, followed by technology experts and academics, then users. Business and government were at the lower end.

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