Transcript from “Trust or Consequence: The Web’s Reputation at Risk”
Oct 26, 2005 – Consumer WebWatch’s conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
General Morning Session
Presentation of Research
- Beau Brendler, Director, Consumer Reports WebWatch
- G. Evans Witt, Principal and CEO, Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI)
- Other Speakers:
- Brian Krebs, WashingtonPost.com
- Dr. Ben Schneiderman, the University of Maryland
- Frank Torres, Microsoft
- Jeff Gralnick, NBC News and Consumer Reports WebWatch
- Robin Raskin, Technology Writer and Consultant
Note: This is an edited transcript of the proceedings.
I’d like to welcome G. Evans Witt to the podium. Evans is Principal and CEO of Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI). Evans has been involved in survey research for almost 30 years. In 22 years with the AP [Associated Press], he helped lead the wire service in the use of public opinion polls and social science research. He was a national political writer, director of election planning, and assistant chief of the AP Washington bureau. In 1996, Evans directed the creation of two award-winning political Web sites, Election Line and Politics Now, for ABC News, National Journal, and The Washington Post. And it was actually at that point that I had the pleasure of working for Evans down here in Washington, so it’s kind of nice to be back here and see Evans again.
Since 1998, Evans has served as President and CEO of Princeton Service Research Associates International, helping direct the company’s growth. And he’s the co-writer, along with Sheldon Gawiser, of A Journalist’s Guide to Public Opinion Goals. And I actually happen to know what the G. in G. Evans Witt stands for, and I’m one of the few people that do, and I’m not going to tell you.
So Evans, can you join us up here and we’ll talk in more detail about the numbers in the poll?
G. Evans Witt
Beau, thank you for that kind introduction. Today, almost halfway through the first decade of the 21st century, it’s become almost a cliché to say that the Internet has gone mainstream. The Internet’s now the online Main Street for more than two-thirds of Americans, who play and work and just goof off there every day.
A majority of Americans now say they browse and shop online. A majority of Americans say they get news online. And for many American workers, having e-mail is far more important than having a telephone on their desk. Almost all American teenagers are hooked into the Internet every day in a multi-media, multi-mode, multi-tasking environment that their poor suffering parents — such as myself — can barely understand.
But like many of the concrete and asphalt Main Streets of America, the online Main Street is teaching Americans some lessons. Americans are learning they have to be a bit wary, a bit cautious, a bit cynical in this online Main Street. Not much more than a decade after the birth of the World Wide Web, users are more demanding of Web sites, users are less trusting, and they’re changing their behavior in response to what they see as very real threats in this virtual world.
Trust is a requirement of using the Internet. When your communications, your transactions, your money are traversing in a virtual world, trust is mandatory. Trust has to be earned and it can be lost in an instance. Next slide please.
Key elements of trust are ones that WebWatch has focused on since its creation. This survey shows that users have developed high expectations for Web sites over a relatively short period of time, and those expectations are growing. As you see here, 88 percent of Internet users now say that keeping their personal information safe and secure is very important for any Web site they visit. This is a new item that we did not ask in the previous survey in 2002. Being able to trust the information on the site – that it’s accurate – is not too far behind, with 81 percent of Internet users today saying that’s very important in deciding which sites they visit and which sites they don’t visit. That’s pretty much unchanged from the survey three years ago.
Seventy-six percent say it’s very important to identify the sources of information on a site. That’s up eight percentage points in just three years. Seventy-three percent rate knowing that a site is updated frequently with new information is very important — again, up eight percentage points. But there have been even bigger gains in what users want to know about the Web sites. Forty-eight percent now say that knowing who owns the Web site is very important to them — that’s up 16 points in three years. Thirty-eight percent say it’s very important to know what businesses and organizations support their Web site — that’s up 14 points in only two years.
By the way, when we talk today in our report about a difference between two percentages as being significant, that means the difference has been tested and found to be statistically significant at the 95 percent confidence level. These are some of the findings of the latest Consumer Reports WebWatch poll of 15 hundred adult Internet users in America. These Internet users were identified in telephone interviews from 2,529 adults, interviewed between May 19th, 2005, and June 21st, 2005. For results based just on the Internet users, the sampling error margin is plus or minus three percentage points. This survey was directed at PSRAI by Margie Engel, our Project Director who is here today, and could not have been done without her hard work and the hard work of many others at PSRAI.
So trust is important. How well are Web sites and organizations generally — not specifically, but generally — doing in building users’ trust, in terms of the accuracy of the information they provide? The answer is: Not too well. There are some declines and there are some signs of erosion in these numbers in the last three years.
News organizations still come out on top as a generic group of organizations. Fifty-six percent of users say they trust news organizations to provide accurate information, at least most of the time. This has little changed in the last three years. News Web sites are trusted by 54 percent of the users.
But take a look at financial institutions. Trust that financial institutions provide accurate information to you is now at 51 percent — that’s down four points since 2002.
And on the other side of the ledger, distrust has risen. The share of Internet users who say they almost never trust large corporations to provide accurate information has gone from 14 percent to 21 percent in three years. Likewise, and dangerous for the Internet, e-commerce sites have also seen an increase in distrust. Now, 21percent of users say they almost never trust e-commerce sites to provide accurate information — up from 14 points three years ago.
So what does all this translate into? The simple answer is: Fear is changing what users are doing online. Users are very worried about the possibility that their personal information that is available online is going to be ripped off, and that criminals will take that information and loot their bank accounts, charge things on their credit cards, and generally ruin their financial lives. Some people call this identity theft, and this fear is changing users’ behavior. Next slide please.
Four out of five Internet users are concerned that someone might steal their identity from information that is available online, and 45 percent worry about that a lot. These high levels of concern have changed behavior. Nearly nine out of 10 users – 86 percent – have changed their online behavior because of fear of identity theft.
For example, 53 percent of Internet users say they’ve stopped giving out personal information to Web sites because of concern about identity theft. Thirty percent have reduced their overall use of the Internet. Twenty-five percent say they’ve stopped buying things online altogether. Next slide please.
Despite all these threats, despite all this fear, online shopping is still a booming business. Why? The answer is deceptively simple. Some sites earn the trust of their users, keep the trust of their users, even if there may be thousands and tens of thousands of bad sites out online that have lost the trust of the users. After all, in this environment, think of what a leap of faith it is to type your credit card number into a form on a Web site, asking them to take your money with the mere promise that days later something will show up via FedEx or UPS at your door. That’s a leap of faith.
And yet three-quarters of Internet users still do it. And most Internet users say they trust the sites where they shop. Fully 77 percent of Internet users say they trust the sites where you buy a product, such as a book, a toy or a CD or clothes. Likewise, there’s a great deal of trust in auction sites, the eBays of the world. Although usage of auction sites is less than the usage of just generic online shopping sites, the trust in auction sites is also remarkably high. Six in 10 Internet users say they trust auction sites, including one in four who trust auction sites a lot. Again, personal experience.
If buying a book online is a leap of faith, then doing one’s banking online is one heck of a leap of faith. Using an online banking site can involve viewing your bank balance, viewing the checks you’ve written or the payments you’ve made, moving money around in accounts, looking at images of the checks you’ve written. Such information used to be the sole province of the drawer in our desk at home and those wood-paneled lobbies of bank branches. Now it’s all online. And remarkably, online financial sites have really earned users’ trust.
As you can here, two-thirds of users say they trust online banking sites. That includes 43 percent who trust them a lot and 25 [percent] who trust them somewhat. More than half trust sites where they can set up automatic payment of their bills, including 31 percent who trust such sites a lot. Web sites which, perhaps, are less used have somewhat lower trust scores, but still substantial.
Sites where you can go to check your credit history — 52 percent say they trust such sites, including 18 percent who say they trust them a lot. Forty-two percent say that sites where you can buy yourself stocks or bonds or mutual funds are sites that they trust, and 36 percent say the same for sites where you can get a loan or a home mortgage.
As you would expect, trust in financial sites is directly related to whether or not you use them. Ninety-three percent of those people who use online banking sites say they trust them, including a whopping 70 percent who say they trust online banking sites a lot. In contrast, among those people who don’t use online banking sites, only 48 percent expressed any level of trust in those sites.
The Internet is many things, and for some people, it is an area that is a danger zone — for children and teenagers. Next slide please. The dangers online for children are many. Most Internet users, a major majority, say that the Web needs a rating system for sites, and the reason for that is straightforward: The dangers they see out there.
Eighty-six percent say it’s a major danger online of adults seeking out children in chatrooms — that’s a major problem. Eighty-two percent say that viewing sexually explicit materials online is a major problem. And 61 percent of online users say that violent online games are a major problem.
This kind of concern has led 86 percent of online users to say that the Web needs a rating system for Web sites, similar to what we have for movies and games and even television. We didn’t ask about a V-chip or things like that, but I think we’re looking at a case where there’s substantial support for at least a voluntary rating system for the Internet.
Somewhat interestingly, and you may think paradoxically, parents who have children 18 and under are not more likely in general to be worried about these issues online nor to support a rating system for the Internet. As you can see, all Internet users — 86 percent — think that a rating system is a good idea, and it’s 91 percent for parents — a slight increase, but not a huge increase. In part, I think that’s because parents already deal with these issues every day, and part of it is when eighty-six percent of online users support something, it’s kind of hard to get that number to move up much at all. There are not too many more people to add to 86 percent in the population.
If the Internet has revolutionized what our children do, how we shop, it’s fair to say the Internet has turned the news business upside-down, inside-out, and flipped it over. The Internet’s combination of ease of use, speed of delivery and ability to update the news quickly has made it one of the most used features of the online world.
Three-quarters of Americans say they read news online. As I mentioned earlier, both news organizations and news Web sites have substantial levels of trust from the users. There are elements of the trust of news sites, though, that are somewhat different than other Web sites. We asked about four issues about reasons that users go to Web sites that are news Web sites, and why they pick one news Web site over another. What’s interesting is not only how much users care about this, but their concern about these reasons has grown.
As you can see, 69 percent of users say that a clear distinction between advertising and news on a news Web site is very important — that’s up 10 percentage points in just three years. The users are using news Web sites, they’re making their decisions about which they trust and which they don’t trust, and they’re ratcheting up the values they want and what news Web sites to use.
Being able to reach those responsible for the Web site is also high on their list. Nearly half of the users want the Web site to list an e-mail address, a phone number, a snail-mail address — some way they can get in contact with the editors or the people responsible for the content of a Web site. That’s up 11 percentage points and 36 percent in just three years.
Interestingly, in the current environment, the news business is under substantial criticism for making mistakes in some of its coverage. Forty-four percent now say it’s very important that a news site have a prominently displayed page for corrections and clarifications, and that’s up 10 percentage points in three years. The final thing that users look for: A third of users, roughly a third of users — 31 percent — say it’s very important that the news site tell you who’s paying for them. What are their financial relationships with other Web sites, with businesses? They want to know that, and that’s up from 22 percent three years ago.
So where does the Internet fit in as a source for news for Americans? You can say, sure, three-quarters of Americans read news online, but where does that fit in in the larger picture? Well, the answer is: Television still is the major source of news for most Americans. It’s been that way for over four decades, and it’s that way today. Sixty-one percent of all Americans say television is their main source of news, and that finding is based on interviews with all Americans in the survey, not just Internet users. That’s down from 67 percent three years ago, but most importantly for today, the percentage of Americans who say they get most of their news from the Internet is up to 11 percentage points, up from five percentage points three years ago. So that is a change.
And while there’s much talk about not believing what you see in the news, most Internet users believe what they read or see, whether it comes from the national television networks, whether it comes from the daily newspaper they read the most, or the news Web site they’re most familiar with. About two-thirds in all three categories say they believe the information from those sources.
There’s a new part of news online — the blogs. Much debate and much controversy. Are they news? What’s their role in information dissemination online? And particularly over the last 18 months, two years, we’ve seen a huge explosion in the number and the prominence of blogs.
About 27 percent of Internet users say they visited a blog in the last few months, so they’re substantially used, a quarter of users. But blogs are not believed. Just one in eight Internet users, 12 percent, say that they believe the information on blogs is accurate at least most of the time. Fifty-seven percent say they distrust the information on blogs, and the rest — about a third — can’t rate, say they can’t rate the accuracy of blogs.
Wait, you say! Only 27 percent of the users have gone to blogs, so how can all the users rate the blogs? Well, perception is very important online, but we ask whether or not you’ve gone to blogs, as I mentioned. Even among the group of Internet users who have gone to blogs, only 16 percent — 16 percent — say they trust what they read there. Blogs are a popular phenomenon, they’re an important phenomenon, but at the moment, they’re not getting the kind of trust that the dreaded mainstream media is getting from users today.
I’ve tried to touch on the main points of the survey in this brief discussion. But there’s a lot more there. The full report, as Beau mentioned, is available on the WebWatch Web site, with the full questionnaire and the full results.
The online world has matured, it’s gone mainstream. Users see many dangers out there. They see problems and they see promise. Things are changing and they’ll continue to change, and the users are watching with some trepidation. Thanks very much, and we’ll be happy — Beau and I will be happy to answer questions if you all have any.
Before we take questions, I just want to make clear a chronological relationship that becomes, may have become, a little bit abstract as we talked about things. In 2002, when WebWatch launched, we did a national survey, a nationally represented sample with methodology very similar to this one, with Princeton Survey Research. So you heard a lot of references in Evans’ presentation just now to results we saw in 2002 versus results we’re seeing now. So we did pay attention to some of the trends.
This poll wasn’t identical in terms of the questionnaire that we did in 2002, but we did pay attention to some of the particular trends. That national survey in 2002 became the vehicle for what we created as guidelines — which, again, you’ll hear referred to a lot more today. But in essence, we asked in that 2002 national poll what were the types of attributes of Web sites that you think are most important, and from that we derived the guidelines.
So as we go, I just want to make clear to everyone that we didn’t go up to a mountaintop and come down with tablets and say, “This is what a credible Web site is.” We actually did base the guidelines on the national poll that we did in 2002 with Princeton Survey Research.
Our Webcast is still going. We’d like to open it up for questions if you have them, and between the two of us, we should be able to answer them, I hope.
G. Evans Witt
And there are microphones around for those of you who have questions.
This is Brian Krebs at WashingtonPost.com. Did you all look at — did you ask any of the people who answered the survey how many of them had been victims of identity theft or had had problems with credit card fraud or anything like that?
G. Evans Witt
We did not. That’s a good research question and one that we’ve explored for various clients over time. Asking people if they have been a victim of a crime, particularly a victim of fraud, is a tricky piece of work because if you’ve been defrauded, people are hesitant to admit that that has happened because they feel dumb. “I was so dumb, I got ripped off.” So the efforts to ask people about, “Have you been ripped off? Have you been a victim of identity theft?” are subject to a little more variability than we’d like to see.
Also, we’re talking about an issue in terms of identity theft that has only become sort of a phrase in the public discussion in recent years, and people react to it in different ways. We almost have to define it for people, so it was not included in the survey.
We do have some people here this morning from the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] who may have some insight on that or specific numbers, so feel free to volunteer if you know or what to chime in.
Dr. Ben Schneiderman
Ben Schneiderman, from the University of Maryland. I think it’s great that you’ve done this survey, but I have a couple of questions about things that may have been omitted at your borders. You don’t survey kids under 18, yet there’s a whole section discussing it. You do survey those above 65, but there’s no discussion. Can you tell us what impact or what differential results you get from those who are over 65 or the impact on them? And the second related one is about health info, which I don’t see mentioned.
G. Evans Witt
The survey was of adults, those 18 years of age and older, so this survey was not targeted to asking those 12 to 18 about their Internet use. We have done surveys like that in the past, and we’ll do those in the future. This is about adult Americans’ perceptions of how kids use the Internet and their adult fears about kids’ use of the Internet. So you’re right, it’s not about what kids think about the Internet, it’s absolutely true.
We did interview people actually as old as 92 for this survey, and those over 65 are, of course, much less likely to be Internet users. Internet use drops off precipitously at about age 62 at the moment. And the folks over age 65, or even over age 60 — that’s how we’ve divided up a substantial part of the analysis, calling them “the matures” — have different attitudes. They tend to be more cynical, they tend to be less trusting, they’re less likely to believe the news than younger users. They’re likely to be more worried about various threats and such online. But it’s a little bit of a tricky comparison because those 18 to 29 are almost all online, and those 60 and up, less than half are online. So it’s a little bit of a tricky comparison.
The health info?
Yeah, let me answer the health info question. Health is pretty much absent from this particular survey. That’s because health was a critical issue to us when we launched in 2002, and continues to be, but we’ve actually already done a lot of health research that’s in the 2002 survey. And, actually, I’m going to be showing a couple of other things as we progress today that talks about health information research. So we’re kind of on the record already about health and we wanted in this particular survey to expand out a little bit and ask about some other sectors of the Web that we are now researching more in-depth.
Were there particular findings or trends that were surprising to you?
G. Evans Witt
I think the basic finding about the fear of identity theft and how it’s changed people’s behavior is quite surprising to me. I mean, you’re looking at tens of millions of online users who say they’ve changed their behavior because they’re afraid somebody’s going to steal their identity, steal their credit card information. It seemed to me that we expected some impact, but to see almost all Internet users — 86 percent of Internet users — say they’ve changed their behavior online because of fear of identity theft, that’s a huge number.
And it’s a huge number of people who said they don’t shop online anymore — a quarter of Internet users. That’s a lot for a behavior that, frankly, is otherwise pretty much ubiquitous. And the finding that I was surprised by is — Beau sort of tossed in the question about using one credit card to buy everything online, thinking, oh, maybe some people do it, maybe some people don’t. But a lot of people have already done that thing to protect themselves.
Overall, the biggest surprise to me was, given all of these wonderful bell curves you see about Internet usage sort of expanding in a way that will actually supercede the population of the planet in two years, that there was some evidence that people are turning away from the Web. Stopping. Not using it.
Thirty percent in this survey — 25 percent saying they’re not going to buy stuff online anymore. I mean, that to me was very much the most unexpected part of this, that the number was so high.
The correlation that we all see here is that [inaudible] more and more people are going online, so what does that indicate? That there are that many more people or are they just telling you something—
Can’t hear back here!
I’m saying that more and more [inaudible] more than the actual reality of what’s happening out there. Do you think they’re not telling the truth or that there’s something that’s happening and even though they’re afraid, they still do it?
G. Evans Witt
Well, I think this is one of the key differences between sort of client-side research and server-side research, if you want to look at it that way. This is users telling us what they do, and over time, it has been a very good, stable metric for judging what people are doing. A lot of what we see in terms of numbers that say “more people are shopping online, they’re buying more online,” and so on, are server-side numbers. These are individual merchants or groups of merchants saying, “More people are buying on my site,” “More people are buying more things on my site.”
But while that’s undoubtedly true and I don’t doubt it for a minute, what this data shows is that people are cutting back on their behavior. They’re cutting back to the sites they trust, they’re cutting back to the sites they want to use, they want to buy from, and they’re cutting back — some of them are cutting back in the frequency of their online shopping. You have to remember, almost all the data you see on online shopping is from the shopping sites, and their view of the world is people coming to them.
This view of the world is all Internet users in America who are adults. It’s a different perspective, it’s a different view. Both are valid, but in terms of what people are doing and what people believe they are doing, people are scared and it’s changing their behavior.
Did you find any statistically significant differences between men and women and their attitudes toward any of these issues?
G. Evans Witt
There are some. There are not a huge number of differences between men and women. As I recall — and I hope I don’t mess this up — there are some differences between men and women, in terms of how important various Web sites characteristics are to choosing their Web sites. For example, that the Web site will keep your information safe. For women, 91 percent think that’s very important; for men, 85 percent think that’s very important. Not huge differences, but you see that consistently. Women are a little bit more worried about some of these issues than men are.
But the gender is not the major sort of determinant of differences in behavior. Age is a much bigger determinant in differences of behavior and perceptions in the online world. Yes, sir?
Did you drill down on the specific threat to identity or to privacy that consumers found so troubling? Is it spam, is it spyware, is it phishing, is it data breaches? And as a follow-on to that, was there anything in your survey that pointed to anything that a company or an online site could do to increase, to drag those numbers out — or drag those numbers down in terms of the people that are kind of migrating away from doing business online?
G. Evans Witt
We did not split out the various causes, reasons, methods of identity theft, and online threats. Others have done that. We used it as a concept that users worried about. We described it to them and asked them if they were concerned about it, and went from there. We didn’t drill down on that. I think Beau’s the better person to answer the second part of the question about what Web sites can do to build this trust.
Primarily — and, actually, I was just going to say when folks ask questions, let’s try to build a sense of community here and identify who you are when you talk to us. So these questions actually are from Frank Torres, who’s from Microsoft and actually used to work for Consumers Union.
The larger question that I’m extrapolating from questions that we get asked is that one of the major concerns is not necessarily — well, people are concerned that institutions are getting hacked into and they’re concerned about headlines that they read in regards to ChoicePoint and other organizations like that that keep vast database reserves that don’t seem to be secure when everybody tells us all the time that their firewalls are impenetrable. So hopefully some of the material that comes out of it later will answer that question better.
I wanted to go back to your figures on seals of approval. Web sites tend to jump through a lot of hoops to meet requirements, to gain those seals of approval, and then to see that seals of approvals seem to rank so low is a little disturbing. And I’m wondering if you have any theories about why consumers seem to pay so little attention to those, compared to other factors, in determining whether they trust a Web site?
That’s a good question. In 2002, the numbers were even lower and one of the things that Consumers Union and Consumer Reports over the years have tried to steer clear from is giving out seals — not tried to steer clear from. They don’t do it. And some of the reasons for that are that seals can be spoofed. You can present a seal on your site and it may not even be — it may be a copy of another seal. Also, in fact, some of the health research that we did brought this out. You can display seals but not necessarily do all of the things that are required in the seals and get away with it.
Seals have traditionally been very difficult to enforce. There have been a number of seal programs that have failed, [I’m] thinking specifically of Web Trader in the U.K. They brought aboard some 2,000 trusted merchants onto their list, but in essence, the expenses of having to pay to maintain or patrol the people who signed on became too expensive and it just didn’t sustain.
So, that said, the numbers have come up between 2002 and 2005. We do have people here from the Better Business Bureau and from Truste who may want to address this issue later in the panel when it comes up. Our official position is that seals of approval do — if there’s a seal — people who are trying to do things that work are good, and we don’t necessarily want to say stop doing the seals, but we don’t necessarily believe, given the data that we’ve seen, that they are a key means of creating a Web site that people trust more than another.
Evans, Jeff Gralnick with NBC News. Hello again. You say that in the past, you’ve surveyed the 12 to 18’s. Can you, or will you, compare those findings with these in the areas of user behavior and trust? Because with that group coming on as a major user base, we need to know.
G. Evans Witt
We have done research, not for WebWatch but for other organizations including the Pew Internet & American Life Project, interviewing teenagers and those about to be teenagers. Those surveys did not include the same questions as these, but in general, what we find is that younger users — both teenagers and those in their twenties — are more trusting of online sites, more trusting of pretty much everything than older users. I mean, the classic is news, is that teenagers and those in their twenties are more likely to say they believe what they see on TV, in the newspapers or online than people over 60, and yet people over 60 use newspapers and television for news far more than people 18 to 30, or kids 12 to 18.
There’s also a greater level of confidence among young Americans in terms of their confidence in their ability to judge a security to safety of the Web site, of the information they’re being exposed to, more than older Americans are. They’re very comfortable in this environment and they’re very comfortable in the ways that they see to judge and to help get information from their peers and from others to judge Web sites and the information they see.
We have time for one more. We definitely will have time later today to get to questions.
Robin Raskin. I’ve got the mike, so I’m it. One of the findings that really stood out was this 86 percent or 91 percent of people wanting a rating system. Do you get a sense of whether these people know that there are rating systems, whether they’ve used them in the past, either in this study or studies before it?
G. Evans Witt
In this study, given that we were postulating something that doesn’t exist — which is always a tricky thing in survey research with the general public — we referred to the existing rating systems for TV, movies, and video games so that the respondents would understand what we’re talking about. We did not delve into whether they think those are useful or not.
There is other research — Kaiser Family Foundation has done other research on, for example, whether or not the V-chip and the TV ratings are useful, movie ratings, and things like that, but not in this survey.
One of the things that I think is going to emerge in this afternoon’s panel about children’s sites is this question. There are organizations that are doing some work in ratings of video games and such, but it seems to have — as has privacy, it seems, down here in Washington — that there seems to have been a loss of momentum in getting anything done, getting something through, getting something that everyone recognizes. So it will be interesting to address that.
That’s all we have time for for questions at the moment, but we certainly will have the opportunity to answer more during the day as you need. I’d like to thank Evans again. Thank you very much.
G. Evans Witt
END OF SESSION