Three out of four Europeans are worried about how companies - including search engines and social networks - use their information, according to a new Eurobarometer survey on attitudes towards data protection and electronic identity, published by the European Commission.
According to the report, 62 per cent of people in the EU give the minimum required information when online, in an attempt to protect their identity, while 75 per cent want to claim the “right to be forgotten” and be able to delete personal information online whenever they want to.
There is also strong support for EU action with 90 per cent of respondents calling for the same data protection rights across Europe.
The survey results come as the Commission prepares to reform EU data protection rules to give greater individual protection, whilst at the same time promising to reduce red tape for business and guarantee the free circulation of data within the EU.
The question of how to achieve this very delicate balance was discussed recently at a seminar organised by Science|Business, which brought together policymakers, academic experts and company representatives to consider how online privacy and security could be enhanced for citizens across Europe.
“Most people are used to giving out personal data to shop online or use social networking sites. But they’re equally worried about how this data will be used, and don’t always feel in control,” said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU Justice Commissioner. The new EU data protection rules will explicitly state that people have the right to withdraw their consent to onward processing of personal data.
Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission, who is in charge of the Digital Agenda, said the Eurobarometer survey drives home the fact that many people are reluctant to shop online because they are worried about privacy. “This is holding back the development of Europe’s Digital Single Market, and hampering our economic recovery. They also have some very real concerns about ensuring the security of their identity online, which I will be addressing shortly with a proposal for legislation.”
The Commission plans to table specific proposals before the end of the year.
The survey shows that 60 per cent of Europeans who use the Internet, (40 per cent of all EU citizens) shop or sell things online and use social networking sites. People disclose personal data, including biographical information (almost 90 per cent), social information (almost 50 per cent) and sensitive information (almost 10 per cent) on these sites.
In all, 70 per cent of respondents said they are concerned about how companies use this data and think that they have only partial, if any, control of their own data. Seventy four cent said users should give specific consent before their data is collected and processed on the Internet.
The key principle of EU data protection rules is that users have to give consent before their data is used. This information cannot then be passed on without the user’s approval and companies cannot use it for purposes other than those agreed.
The most frequent concerns are about fraud when shopping online, which was mentioned by 55 per cent of respondents, information being used without the user’s knowledge on social networking sites (44 per cent), and data being shared between companies without agreement (43 per cent).
People trust that public authorities such as hospitals, governments and EU institutions will protect their data better than private companies such as shops, Internet providers and online services.