For us college students, chat rooms, emails, surfing for information, or even downloading free music are the main function of the Internet. But in the few recent years the Internet has changed rapidly and became an important medium for business and commerce too.
With every new day, the Internet reaches more users all over the globe. According to a study done last year by CommerceNet, the number of Internet users in North America has reached 92 million. Users aged sixteen and older have increased 16% during a nine month study, while the number of online consumers increased 40% and is increasing more rapidly. Internet business became one of the important functions that the Net serves. Martk Resch, the executive vice president of CommerceNet said, "With more than 30% of users being Internet consumers, we're seeing a tidal wave of E-commerce in North America" (Toupin W12-W14).
This new business frontier, or E-commerce, is forcing companies to adapt new ways of buying, selling, and advertising. Attracting customers and knowing their buying habits became a very important part of this business boom. The value of consumers' personal information, interests, and credit card numbers attracts WebSite companies that try to target more customers with customized advertisements. Also, it attracts hackers who try to prove their superiority by getting access to confidential information. Spying companies and sneaking hackers add more concerns among users regarding privacy and the safety of personal information.
Similarly to old-fashioned business transactions, consumer trust plays a great role in the success of online companies and "brand equity" proved to be very vital on the net --even more than it is in real life (Schwartz 156). According to "Why E-commerce Lags in Europe," by Beth Cox, only 4% of households in Europe have shopped online in the past three months "largely due to lack of experience and security concerns" (Toupin W14).
With U.S. business transactions totaling $43 billion in 1998 and an expected $1.3 trillion transactions by 2003, privacy and security online has to be improved in order to encourage consumers to enter into this online-consumer generation. Facts show that great security means great trust. Trust develops with time, equity, and reputation. For example: the number of consumers at GE Plastics' secure website rose rapidly from fewer than 10 regular customers in 1997 when the site was launched to about 900 customers now.
Some of the steps taken to increase privacy began with Netscape and Microsoft adding a features to their web-browsers to turn off "Cookies". Other softwares allow users to list sites from which they will accept cookies -by blocking cookies users can make it harder for websites to watch or track them. The Anonymizer is another way to protect privacy. It is a service that allows people to surf the Web and send email anonymously. (Bettleheim 98).
The world of E-commerce has been witnessing recent technological advancements geared to protect consumers' privacy. Until, or if ever, we develop a perfect Internet Commerce system with no security breaches, users are the ones who should be responsible for their online-security. Just like commerce in the real world, consumers have to take few steps to guarantee better security. Some of these steps include the following:
- When dealing with a website that asks for personal or confidential information (for examples, an on-line bookstores) users better know the site's reputation. Usually famous sites are known through advertisement or just a word of mouth.
- When disclosing personal information on the web users have to be sure that the party that they provide information to is trustworthy. For that, users have to read the privacy agreements that most trust worthy sites will provide.
- Never give away personal passwords to anyone.
- Also, be extra careful when using public computers: Users have to close the browser that they used or even restart their computers especially if they were engaged in online shopping. This way they can lessen the chances of someone else getting access to their personal information.
Having sufficient awareness of online business and knowing the risks related to it are the user's responsibility. Risk is always present; humans usually take risks in order to benefit from modern technology. For example, flying or even driving a car are not risk free; Internet commerce is the same. We just have to realize that Internet commerce is not absolutely risk free (see Case Studies please). Thus, we have to educate ourselves about what we can do to protect our personal and financial information on the Net. Accepting this risk is up to each individual.
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