- Although European privacy rules are stricter than those in the US, a study by Consumers International concludes that European internet sites are outperformed where privacy is concerned.
Customer information is regularly sold without consent and web users often receive unsolicited email, Consumers International states in a study that will be released at a news conference in London today, de Consumentenbond, the Dutch Consumer Union confirmed yesterday.
Consumers International, a worldwide federation of 263 consumer organisations, reviewed 750 commercial websites in Europe and the US. The report showed that two thirds of these sites collect personal information from their visitors and 60% lack a privacy statement.
Possibly more troubling is that only 9% of the European sites ask permission to sell the information the customer provided, a mere 20% ask for approval before adding the customer to a mailing list, and 15% gather personal information in a way invisible to the web user.
Popular US sites did better in the study. About half ask for approval to sell the customers' details -- although this is still an unsatisfactory number according to Consumer International.
The federation also found that some sites transfer customers' credit card data over unsecured connections.
"It's a remarkable fact, but despite all the rules and regulations we have in Europe, North American websites are doing better" on the privacy front, saysEwald van Kouwen, spokesman for de Consumentenbond, a member of Consumers International.
According to Van Kouwen this doesn't mean Europe needs lawsuits and powerful privacy activists, like the US. "Consumers International will call for European governments to take more responsibility in enforcing the rules," he says.
Consumers International, Van Kouwen says, advises internet users to protect their privacy with technical aides. Users could set their web browser to decline cookies, which can be used to track web surfing habits, and use software that allows anonymous web surfing.