Consumers say it is important that their privacy is also respected online. In practice however, they often appear to do little to protect their personal information such as their browsing behavior or phone contacts. Over the past few months, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has instructed the companies behind the 100 most popular websites in the Netherlands to adjust their cookie policies. Via its consumer information portal ConsuWijzer, ACM calls on consumers to come into action for their online privacy. This call ties in with ACM’s larger awareness campaign called Alert Online. Henk Don, Member of the Board of ACM, explains: “Many consumers do not know that, with just a few simple steps, they are able to protect their online privacy much better. We are calling on consumers to come into action. We sincerely hope that consumers will actually do so.”
What will ACM do?
ACM has checked whether the companies behind the 100 most popular websites inform their visitors, and ask for their consent before storing any cookies. Almost none of these companies did so in a correct and clear manner. As a result of ACM’s intervention, the largest websites now inform their visitors better, and ask for their consent before storing or accessing cookies. However, some websites do not offer their visitors a choice to accept cookies or not. Visitors will only get access if they accept the cookies. However, you can take other measures to protect your online privacy if these ‘cookie walls’ force you to accept cookies. ConsuWijzer offers tips on how to do so.
What can you as a consumer do yourself?
A lot of services and apps on the Internet are for free. Consumers unwittingly ‘pay’ for these services or apps by sharing their personal information. Companies build personal profiles using this information, enabling them to target individual consumers by sending them specific ads, for example. As a consumer, you often cannot see who has access to your personal information, and what they do with it. So you do not know how much you have actually ‘paid’ for using that app or website. You would probably not be surprised if you received ads for trips to the US if you were searching for those just the other day. However, if someone you have only vaguely met in your GP’s waiting room is suggested to you as a ‘friend’ on social media, this may come as a shock. Visit ConsuWijzer’s website to find out what you can do, for example:
- Delete your browser history and cookies regularly;
- Turn off ‘location services’ on your phone. Turn them off in the settings of the individual apps as well. Turn off ‘share my information’ in the individual apps, too.
Online consumers are one of the main topics of the ACM Agenda. ACM’s efforts are aimed at allowing consumers to go online with confidence. That is why ACM takes action against businesses that do not comply with the rules.