Privacy: Consumers Care but Regulators Don’t?

By: Richard Beaumont | Thursday, April 25, 2013 | Tagged: ICO, ePrivacy | Leave Comment

This week the ICO released new data about the complaints it has received about the use of cookies on websites. 

Between January and March this year just 87 complaints were made via their website.  This compares to over 78,000 complaints about 'unwanted marketing communications' - although that could be anything from spam texts to direct mail.  The chart below summarises the number of cookie complaints they have had to date.

Ico Complaints Graph

The ICO interprets this graph as showing a low level of concern about cookies.  Yet these stats appear to clash with many studies of people's views of privacy that have been conducted over the last couple of years.

The Economist Intelligence Unit has recently published the results of a new global survey conducted over two months at the beginning of this year - Privacy uncovered: can private life exist in the digital age?

After questioning over 750 adults, almost all of who use the internet every day, they came to some broad conclusions:

  • The large majority of people were concerned that data they share online could be used to steal their money or send them targeted advertising.  They were also worried about government and employer intrusion in their private lives.
  • Two thirds of people will sometimes not buy a product online because of fears about security and privacy of their personal data.
  • Only a quarter of people believe businesses are transparent enough about  how they use personal data.

However, these stats from the survey are what really caught my eye:

  • 75% of people believe privacy regulation is not strong enough.
  • Only 18% of people said that they knew what to do in the event that a business misused their data.

Thinking about what these figures say,and taking into account recently published research that has called the ICO 'weak and ineffective', one can draw a very different conclusion about the ICO's figures to the one they arrived themselves.

The low level of complaints could easily be down to:

  • Lack of awareness of how to complain about cookies
  • Lack of belief that complaints will be effective in bringing about change

And there could be another reason, although this is more subjective: The complaints tool is so badly designed people are not completing the complaints process.

I should stress there is no evidence to support this assertion, other than anecdotal, however I think it may be one of the most important factors.  

It is basically too complicated.  It asks questions that people cannot really be expected to know the answers to.  It is too much detail where a broad brush approach is needed, especially when you consider that the ICO's own investigation of complaints amounts to no more than a visual check of the website.

So in response to this, we have created an alternative way to register concerns about websites: Your Concerns about Cookies 

We have cut it right down to the basics - identify a site, and tick off what you think it is doing that you are not happy about.  It is easy to complete yet still provides enough information to enable an investigation.  

Of course our tool is not official and is just for illustration, but if anyone wants to complain about sites not being compliant with the cookie law - then please fill it in. It's anonymous of course and if we get enough takers we will publish the aggregate results. And if the ICO asks we will be happy to share the details with them as well.

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