ICO warns companies to “be straight with consumers”

Businesses, charities and public bodies need to be straight with consumers about why their personal information is being collected, how it will be used and who else may end up seeing it. In a speech to the 23rd Annual Privacy Laws and Business conference yesterday, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham warned that organisations who are not transparent risk both losing customer trust and enforcement action.

“The benefits of the internet age are clear: the chance to make more contacts, quicker transactions and greater convenience. But there are risks too. A record of our online activity can reveal our most personal interests. Get privacy right and you will retain the trust and confidence of your customers and users; mislead consumers or collect information you don’t need and you are likely to diminish customer trust and face enforcement action from the ICO,” he said.

Launching the new “Personal information online code of practice”, Graham noted that consumers must be able to make an informed choice about signing up for a service. Holding out-of-date records or failing to secure personal information created a compliance risk. He was speaking against the background of a European Commission opinion that current online data collection practices fall foul of the ePrivacy Directive requirement for informed consent.

Graham added: “Organisations must be transparent so that consumers can make online privacy choices and see how their information will be used. Individuals can take control by checking their privacy settings and being careful about the amount of personal details they post to social networking sites and elsewhere online.”

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