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Consumer sentiment regarding privacy on user generated content services in the digital economy

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Protecting European consumer privacy

Online service providers may be breaking European privacy laws, yet authorities are fairly powerless. An EU project illustrated the problem and solutions.

Digital Economy

Much of modern life, and especially shopping, has moved online and become globalised. These rapid changes may undermine the EU's relatively strict protections concerning consumer information and informed consent. Aiming to investigate was the 'Consumer sentiment regarding privacy on user generated content services in the digital economy' (CONSENT) project. The 19-member consortium ran for 3 years to April 2013, during which time it received EUR 2.6 million in EU funding. The project aimed to determine how consumer behaviour and commercial practices are changing the role of consent in the processing of personal data. Consent is a key concept of the European market, and separates this market from others. Nevertheless, a trend towards users of online services having little control of their personal information, especially regarding targeted personal advertising, apparently violates European principles. The project also investigated how these social changes affect consumer choice and attitudes towards privacy. CONSENT completed its five objectives. In the project's first 18 months, it compiled 3 datasets, which were analysed in terms of current practices and legal frameworks. The project found that fair-processing practices of service providers are generally weak. For example, most do not provide a separate registration stage for providing consent. In general, it is difficult for consumers to find the provider's privacy policy, and some do not have one. In most cases, consumers are unaware of which data are collected and how they are used. Furthermore, the current European legal framework is inadequate in several ways, and laws are implemented inconsistently and authorities have insufficient powers. The lack of enforcement power means that providers have no incentive to comply with laws. In the project's second half, it focused on the quantitative analysis of attitudes of individual users. The project also created a toolkit aimed at policymakers, and distilled its findings into a policy brief. The project had an active dissemination schedule, mostly consisting of numerous workshops and events. The CONSENT project provided an overview of current service provider privacy practices and policies, which identified numerous priorities for policymakers. That will mean more robust data protection for EU citizens.

Keywords

Online service provider, privacy, consumer protection, consent, data protection, digital economy

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