EU Privacy Law on Privacy – Do People Really Care?

Today is sees the first day that the EU Privacy Law comes into effect meaning websites must now gather ‘consent’ from users before using cookies to collect data unless it is ‘strictly necessary’. What ‘consent’ and ‘strictly necessary’ actually mean, no one (particularly the ICO or  DMCS) seems to know. Personally web analytics, and the anonymous cookie data it collects, are ‘strictly necessary’ for my company, my clients and my professional community to continue to grow in the midst of the ongoing economic uncertainty.

The good news for the £4 billion+ UK digital marketing industry is that the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham yesterday announced that UK businesses will be given ’12 months to get their houses in order’. This basically gives the government a chance to make amends for the absolute mess they have made of this situation, and the industry a chance to give some serious thought to self regulation.

The whole affair got us thinking here at Elisa DBI; how much do people really care about what data is collected about them by companies on the web? How many times per month do you sign up to online services, or software products that require you to read page after page of terms & conditions? How many times do you actually read them even if they are linked to our financial details? One answer came when two researchers noticed that Apple were collecting location data about all iPhone users when the rest of the world failed to notice despite it being in the Ts&Cs!

To answer that question in a more qualitative manner we set up a little Survey Gizmo poll to ask the #measure community on Twitter if they actually ever read terms and conditions. We asked “Do you ever read terms & conditions when signing up to an online service?” to which you could reply:

  1. Yes, always
  2. No, never
  3. For financial agreements
  4. Sometimes
  5. Rarely
  6. Start & Give up

The results astounded us, from 81 respondents…

ONLY 2.5% OF PEOPLE WHO SIGN ONLINE AGREEMENTS ALWAYS READ THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS

How our online poll fared

  • Most people NEVER read terms and conditions
  • Over 60% either don’t or only read them ‘rarely’
  • Only 11% of people read them for financial agreements

So it begs the question that, when users are given the chance to read in full what data is collected about them – most of the time they can not be bothered to do so. Why then must we make the lives of digital marketers harder by forcing users to read information that they mostly do not care about?

Web analysts, conversion rate professionals, UX experts and MultiVariate testers are there of course (in most cases) to make their websites more money. What I think the lawmakers have missed here, is that they do this mainly by making the web a better place for users; designing websites that are more usable, content that’s more relevant, products and services that are more available. If we limit their capacity to do this will users feel the law has worked? I doubt it.

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