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Privacy policy

Data Privacy Day: What does privacy look like in a digital world?

Data Privacy Day, 28 January 2019, aims to raise awareness and promote privacy and data protection best practice across the world.

It’s a chance to think about the kind of data we are sharing with the digitally connected products in our lives, from your phone recording your steps, your photos on social media, or your purchasing history online. And for companies to think about how they collect, use and sell this data.

So how much control do we have over our data privacy?

“You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”, Scott McNealy Sun Microsystems CEO famously said nearly 20 years ago.

This was before a world where search engines know you have cancer before you do, your smart TV is listening in and reporting on you, and where even our most intimate details can be easily found online.

But what if we’re not prepared to get over it? What if we no longer want to ‘trade off’ something so important to us? How do we get from zero privacy to as much privacy as we want?

Summit 2019 Hear from a diverse range of voices at our sessions on Data Protection and Privacy Learn more

Do people really care about privacy online?

Actually, yes.

More than half (52%) of internet users around the world are more concerned about their online privacy than they were a year ago. And around one in ten are making fewer online purchases (12%), closing social media accounts (10%), or using the internet less often overall (7%), compared to a year ago.

Consumers are increasingly concerned about services and products they feel violate their privacy. Building in good privacy practices at the beginning of the design process is essential, (sometimes known as privacy by design), it is an important way to establish an informed, trusted relationship between consumers and companies. And it’s a lot better than bolting on an unreadable privacy policy at the end and expecting that to cover it.

There is good practice out there on this, for example, LEGO’s website, which connects children through games, has no third-party cookies or connections to social media accounts, and advises users to use pseudonyms.

Consumers should have control over their personal data

Consumers International’s member organisation, the Norwegian Consumer Council, published a study in June 2018 on how companies use standard settings as well as intentionally confusing layout and misrepresentation of benefits for users to push consumers into sharing data.

In addition to the above techniques, the Norwegian Consumer Council also found evidence of companies obscuring the fact that users have very few actual choices, and that comprehensive data sharing is accepted just by using the service.

We’ve found in our research that in many cases consumers are presented with a ‘take it or leave it’ offer of services.

People should be able to choose how data about them and created by them is used. They should be made aware of the implications of how their data could be used in the digital economy and given simple and effective ways to assert control or mitigate risks.

An example of best practice is, TOMTOM fitness tracker which features a complete autodelete of a person’s data after 24 hours, an easy-to-read privacy policy and a system designed so the company knows nothing about who is using it.

Privacy processes based on real behaviour

Services that are designed with the best intentions might fail to deliver to give consumers meaningful control if they are not developed with real-world usage in mind. Reams of terms and conditions that can realistically never be read don’t work, and long contracts using complicated (or sometimes foreign) language means consumers struggle to make informed choices.

For example, our member CHOICE calculated you could read a book in the time it took to read Kindle’s privacy policy.

As consumers grow more and more aware of what data is being gathered about them, what is being done with that data and who is getting the real value they are likely to turn away from products and services that don’t consider their privacy needs. Hopefully, before that happens, companies will start to build consumers wants and needs into their products and services. Consumers International will be working with business, regulators and NGOs to get us to that point.

Until that happens, to help consumers understand the issue and give them some practical advice about how to protect themselves together with the Internet Society, we have created some top tips.

So happy Data Privacy Day everyone, and remember data privacy is for life, not just for the 28 January.