EU Companies Out of Step with Consumer Concerns Over Online Tracking

New TRUSTe privacy research published today shows that across Europe companies are heavily tracking online behaviour, consumers are highly aware of this activity, and consumers expect websites to get their permission before tracking their behaviour online. Yet despite the introduction of the EU Cookie Directive in May 2011, only a minority of companies are seeking consent from users before dropping cookies.

The TRUSTe 2012 EU Consumer Privacy Index is the first study to provide a comprehensive analysis of current consumer attitudes to data privacy and company practices across the EU. The extensive study included over 4,000 consumers (conducted online via Ipsos MORI’s i:Omnibus survey in France, Germany, Great Britain and the Netherlands) and 200 top websites (compiled using TRUSTe’s deep scanning website tracker and cookie audit technology to review the top 50 websites as ranked by Alexa.com in each of the four countries).

The headline findings include:

  • 86% of respondents in the Netherlands were aware of internet browser cookies compared with 81% in Great Britain, 78% in Germany and 59% in France.
  • The top 50 French websites are dropping nearly twice as many third party cookies (434) as Dutch websites (237).
  • 71% of French respondents were very concerned about their privacy online compared with 69% in Great Britain, 62% in Germany and 48% in the Netherlands.

In relation to the EU Cookie Directive, the research showed:

  • 79% of Dutch respondents were aware that the EU Cookie Directive law requires that companies must have your permission to track you online compared with 63% in Great Britain, 51% in Germany and 26% in France.
  • 82% of Germans expect companies to comply with the EU Cookie Directive as do 76% in Great Britain and 62% in the Netherlands.
  • 53% of French respondents expect companies to comply yet 44% plan to only visit websites of companies who comply with the EU Cookie Directive.
  • 12% of the top 50 UK websites and 32% of Dutch websites had taken some steps to comply with the Directive with an onscreen pop-up, banner or tab informing users about cookies on the site. None of the top 50 websites in France or Germany had done this.

EU Managing Director for TRUSTe, Danilo Labovic said: “This research shows that there is a significant gap between consumer expectations and the experience provided by most companies. The majority of EU consumers are highly knowledgeable about internet cookies and are aware of the pay-off between online targeting from advertisers and receiving free online services, content and games. However they have high levels of privacy concerns and across all four countries, an average of 83%* thought that companies should get their permission before tracking them online.

The consequences of getting this wrong for businesses 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.

The good news is that there are measures companies can take to address these concerns. The research also found that 62% in France, 57% in Germany and Great Britain and 49% in the Netherlands agreed that they trusted a website more if they saw a certification or seal indicating privacy approval from an outside organisation.”

For a copy of the TRUSTe 2012 EU Consumer Privacy Index please go to http://www.truste.com/eu-compliance-tracking-awareness-index/. More information about TRUSTe can be found at http://www.truste.eu

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