Tuesday, February 12, 2013
I delivered a presentation entitled 'Rising to the Privacy
Challenge' at the DMA UK Data Protection half-day conference last
Friday (videos hopefully available soon). During my research, I
uncovered a whole series of surveys clearly indicating that
consumers are more concerned than ever about their online
These figures fly in the face of common mythologies that
'privacy is dead' and 'no-one cares about privacy any more'.
The event was all about the proposed new EU Data Protection
Regulation and its potential impact on UK marketing practices
and business and included a keynote speech from Chris Graham, the
My piece was mostly focussed on what I thought would be the key
technology challenges posed by stricter privacy legislation, and
the kinds of changes in the digital experience that we could expect
to see as a result.
Far from being relaxed about online privacy, consumer mistrust
of businesses use of personal data online appears to be increasing.
These are just a few of the facts I included in my talk:
The 2013 Truste Privacy
Index survey found that a whopping 43% of
internet users don't trust businesses with their personal
information, an increase ofsix percentage pointscompared to a year
In the same survey, 91% of people said they
avoid doing business with companies they don't believe protect
their online privacy. And 79% of smartphone
users say they avoid privacy intrusive apps.
Research by consultancy Ovum showed that only 14%
of consumers believe that companies are being honest about
how web tracking data is used.
This chimes well with a recent study by Microsoft, which
found that only 22% of US consumers trust website
The Ovum study also revealed that nearly half of respondents
believed that their personal data was being sold to advertisers for
Plus, they found that 68% of internet users
would choose anonymity through a Do Not Track feature for search
engines, if it was easily available.
Interestingly, the UK figure was above the average at 71%, but
the USA came out second top at 77% - so it seems US citizens are
even more eager for greater online privacy than most Europeans
(only French respondents where more privacy conscious, with 81%
wanting search anonymity).
The Privacy Arms Race
Another way to judge users privacy concerns is to look at what
they are doing to try to protect themselves. A quick look at
the Mozilla Add-On store will reveal that the most popular
extension for the Firefox browser, is an Ad-blocking
tool. It has more than twice the number of users
than the second place extension.
There are also a further two extensions in the top 10 that are
significantly geared towards online privacy. More extensions
are being released all the time that are designed to protect
consumers from what many see as the invasive data gathering
practices of big business.
We also know that use of Do Not Track settings in browsers is on
the increase. Although the official stats are a little old
now, as of May 2012, 8.6% of Firefox desktop users
were asking not to be tracked online - two percentage points, or a
35% increase, from just 6 months earlier.
Firefox mobile users are even more privacy conscious, with
19% choosing the Do Not Track option.
What all of this tells us is that consumer concerns about online
privacy are not going away, on the contrary, greater numbers of
people are taking actions to protect themselves online.
Microsoft is one technology business already looking to make the
most of people's privacy concerns. They launched Internet
Explorer 10 last year with Do Not Track switched on by default -
positioning it as the 'privacy friendly' browser. They have
also been running anti-Google campaigns, focussing amongst others
on how Gmail content is used to provide tageted ads. Just go
to YouTube (no small irony) and search
Yet the last thing we really need is some kind of privacy arms
race, a consumer vs. business battle. That sort of thing just
sucks up energy and resources that in reality everybody would
prefer to put to better use.
We are at a crucial juncture with the proposals for new EU
wide-wide privacy protections. There are many things
wrong with the draft Regulation, and it is important to iron those
issues out over the next few months. There is much that could
be done to reduce bureaucracy and avoid a box ticking culture.
There have been lots of interest groups putting forward their
positions and suggestions for changes. This has included
lobbying by US business interests that see threats in strong
privacy protections in the EU.
There is still much more negotiation to come, however, in all
the horse-trading it is important to ensure that the goal of
increasing consumer privacy is achieved. We need privacy
rules that are simple to implement, enforce and understand.
Or else trust will continue to be eroded, and all the effort
will be for nothing. An all-out privacy war won't do anyone