Thursday, June 26, 2008

Data Protection Developments

Having been bogged down with marking, finally had some time to catch-up with the latest data protection developments:

Profiling on the internet is back on the agenda: Out-Law has recently posted this press release on Electronic Commerce:

A new set of consumer contract laws to harmonise the rules that govern online selling across the EU will be proposed this autumn by the European Commission. The EU's consumer chief also promised fresh guidance on viral adverts and profiling technology.

Addressing a roundtable on digital issues in London on Friday, European Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva said that while e-commerce is succeeding at national level, cross-border e-commerce is failing to keep pace. The European Commission believes that simpler and better-harmonised consumer laws will boost the sector.

The results of EU surveys among 26,000 consumers and 7,200 businesses were announced by Kuneva on Friday. They show that while a third of the EU's 490 million consumers have bought something online, only seven percent have bought from foreign suppliers. Of those with web access at home, 56% have bought online; but only 13% have made a cross-border purchase.

These figures underline how much work we still have to do to boost confidence in the online internal market," said Kuneva.

Probably more of interest is the discussion on privacy and in particular that of "targeted advertising.

Kuneva expressed concern about the targeting of adverts in what might be interpreted as a reference to recent controversy over Phorm, an advertising technology firm.

"If you watch tennis over the internet, you will be targeted with ads for tennis items. If you read about home improvement, chances are that you will receive ads for repair services and new furniture," she said. "But there are some concerns that the amounts of personal data collected over the internet without the awareness of users, let alone their consent, is getting too large and a bit out of control." [on this point, the UK ICO has published its opinion on Phorm technology - consent of users will be required under Regulation 7 of the PECR)

"Currently many websites offer to click for 'enhanced services'. Is this an informed consent? How many people actually know that this amounts to consent to having their behaviour tracked, to have that data stored and then used commercially? What would be fair terms in an agreement to allow tracking? Publishers currently have privacy policies that allow the installation of tracking devices that are not themselves covered by their privacy policy. Is this a fair term? I believe that informed consent is the central issue that consumer policy must next address."

"I want to step up our work to develop core consumer principles that feed into policy across sectors and technologies delivering a more consistent approach the conditions surrounding tracking and profiling," she said."

Leaving aside whether individuals consent to targetted advertising or not, as discussed before, profiling takes place when individuals visit any websites (not least their clickstream data is captured by search engines; websites etc.). For those interested in researching profiling and data protection issues, recommended reading at this stage is Bygrave's Data Protection Law: approaching its law, rationale and limits.

See also:

  1. ICO: Phorm - Webwise and Open Internet Exchange
  2. Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003
  3. ISPs sign up to targetted ad deals