TrustArc Blog

Behind the statistics – responding to EU consumers’ online privacy concerns

November 20, 2012

Danilo Labovic
EMEA Managing Director | TRUSTe
@dlabovic

Last Thursday we published the most comprehensive analysis of current consumer attitudes to data privacy across key EU markets. The research included findings from an Ipsos MORI survey of over 4000 consumers in France, Germany, Great Britain and the Netherlands and an analysis of the tracking and compliance on the top 200 websites across these four countries.

The research has been widely picked up and reported by publications ranging from L’Echo and Express in Belgium, Winmag Pro and AdManager in the Netherlands to Brand Republic and Mobile Marketing Magazine in the UK. But behind the headlines what are the key insights from this study for companies doing business in the EU?

We found that the majority of EU consumers are highly knowledgeable about online tracking and are aware of the pay-off between online targeting from advertisers and receiving free online services and content. However they have high levels of privacy concerns and across all four countries surveyed, an average of 83% thought that companies should get their permission before tracking them online.

The consequences of getting this wrong for business are significant with 36% in France choosing not to visit a company website due to concerns about their privacy online and 34% in Germany not using a smartphone app due to online privacy concerns. Across all four countries an average of 68% expect companies to comply with the recent EU Cookie Directive and an average of 41% plan to only visit websites that do.

With the top 50 websites in France and Germany having taken no action to inform visitors on their home page about cookie use and tracking on these sites they appear to be out of step with the concerns of their users. According to EMOTA, the European Multi-channel and Online Trade Association and the European Digital Media Association, e-commerce will reach a turnover of €300 billion in the EU this year. As I shared our research findings at the 4th Annual EU E-commerce Conference in Brussels last week, it was agreed that data protection is a must for e-commerce organisations.

The role of trustmarks to address consumer privacy concerns has been the subject of much recent discussion in the EU. The EU Cloud Computing Strategy highlighted the importance of EU-wide certification schemes for trustworthy cloud providers and the revised EU data protection framework proposals include provisions intended to encourage the take-up of privacy seals, certification mechanisms and trust marks. The UK ICO is currently conducting a survey to gather organisations’ views and practical experiences in using and operating seals and trustmarks. The deadline for responses is 30 November 2012.

Looking at the data more closely it is striking that privacy concerns are very high across all the countries we surveyed except for the Netherlands where just 48% were concerned about their online privacy. This is interesting, given that more top Dutch websites were using pop-ups, banners or a tab to inform users about cookies and tracking compared with the UK, France and Germany. The Netherlands is also the only country in the EU with four active trust marks currently in use. Does this help explain the lower level of concern around privacy among the Dutch? If so then this is yet another example of how good privacy practices can have a positive impact on consumer engagement online.