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Online Data Protection & Privacy Fears Hit UK Consumers
By: MarkJ - 27 March, 2008 (8:39 AM)

The Ofcom Consumer Panel (OCP), an independent group that advises Ofcom of consumer interests in the markets it regulates, has warned that people have increasingly widespread concerns about their online privacy and data protection.

The study found that consumers are savvy and switched on users of new technology, but that they fear intrusion into their privacy and don’t trust that their personal data will be protected. Recent concerns over the Phorm (news) system and our governments ability to lose millions of personal records doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

The report also reveals that consumers have little idea about what rules exist to protect their data, and told the Consumer Panel that they felt exposed to others “out there” who they feared could find out too much about them:

Anna Bradley, Consumer Panel Chair, explained: “The communications technology market is fast-moving and is providing real benefits to UK consumers that they clearly value. However, this research shows that there are serious challenges ahead in relation to privacy and the use of personal electronic data. Service providers, regulators and other policy makers need to give consumers greater confidence that the risks are well managed. In addition, we need to help consumers understand about the existing protections, make the residual risks clear to them and help them to make their own electronic environment safer.

One of the people researchers spoke to expressed concern that some services gave others information about them and access to their lives: “Some companies, when they interview people [for a job] they’ll type them into the internet… That scares me… That’s too much information.” In another example the survey found that people using social networking sites were not ‘gung ho’ about their privacy: “But then what about the people who you don’t want to find you? You’re listed on your friends’ profiles as their friend so you have no control over who knows you’re on there…

People also said they felt under siege from SPAM (junk email) on the phone and the web and they expressed particular concerns about dodgy dates, paedophiles and unscrupulous Internet vendors.

The message is, without exception, that consumer privacy should be heavily protected. It is perhaps a message that some ISPs (Virgin Media, BT), which continue to shun the adoption of an "opt-in" method for Phorm, would do well to heed.

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