Web sites fail to protect privacy

Sites criticised for failing to ask for customer consent when collecting private data

The vast majority of European and US Web sites are failing to protect users' privacy, according to a UK-based consumer interest group Thursday.

Consumers International, which represents 263 consumer organisations, says that hardly any Internet sites which collect personal data allow those users to decide whether they want their information passed on to a third party. This is despite EU regulations that state that consumers must be informed if identifiable information is shared and must be allowed access to that information.

The survey covered 751 consumer Internet sites, over a third of which collect this type of information. Consumers International believes that consumers should have greater control over the use of their personal information.

"Because of inadequate implementation of existing government measures, people don't have control over their data," says Anna Fielder, director of the Office for Developed and Transition Economies at Consumers International in a statement. "This widespread neglect of good privacy practice is all the more worrying when you consider that electronic technologies for collection of data develop so rapidly."

Other privacy groups are also unhappy about the way that Web sites use customer information. Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, says that sites should be prohibited from sharing this sort of information in the first place. "The real issue should be whether they are allowed to pursue this practice at all, not whether they ask for consent," he says. "We are fixated with consent and have lost sight of the real issue."

Consumers International calls for international regulation to allow users to check, correct or delete data that sites hold about them. It also calls for an independent Internet privacy watchdog to be created.

The Data Protection Commission has warned that it plans to crack down on Web sites that do not comply with the EU regulations.

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