RealTime IT News

Web Sites Still Fail to Protect Customer Data

A report by Consumers International reveals that consumer Internet sites are failing to respect user privacy.

The conglomerate of worldwide consumer organisations, Consumers International, which includes UK groups such as the National Consumer Council and the Consumers Association, believes that over 60% of websites could be failing to provide adequate security for private user information, and are therefore breaking international data protection laws.

From a survey of 751 internet sites for consumers, Consumers International found that over 500 required users to input personal information, which would be considered private, to gain access to the site. Almost two-thirds of these sites collected information that would make it easy for another party to contact the user. A vast majority also gave users no choice about being on the site's own mailing list or having their name passed on to affiliates or third parties.

Although European data protection regulations are strict, it should not be thought that this practice is restricted to the US: the report found that sites within the EU are no better at telling users how they use their data than sites based in the US. In fact, said the report, some of the best privacy policies were found on US sites. The most popular US sites were more likely to give users a choice about being on the company's mailing list or having their details forwarded, despite the fact that there is European legislation, obliging EU-based sites to provide users with a choice.

Consumers International also expressed concern over the fact that only 10% of sites targeting children asked for parental consent before allowing children to input personal information, revealing that many European and US internet sites "fall woefully short of international standards on data protection".

Anna Fielder of Consumers International said: "Privacy is recognised as a fundamental human right, yet we've found that too many companies collect a lot of unnecessary, very personal information about their customers - and because of inadequate implementation of existing government measures people don't have control over their data".

As a result of the report, Consumers International has created a five-point plan for consumers to protect themselves from misuse of private information. The points are:

  • Limit disclosure of your personal information.
  • Set up a separate email account for ecommerce activities
  • Reject cookies planted in your computer by intrusive businesses
  • Consider using an internet privacy tool which allows you to surf anonymously
  • Learn about your legal rights and be prepared to use them