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UK Report Advises Websites to Better Protect User Data

UK Report Advises Websites to Better Protect User Data

Sarah Hardacre
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have jointly published a report outlining harmful website design practices that they aim to stop as they unfairly acquire personal data in the UK.

Online Choice Architecture (OCA) is “the ways in which firms present information and choices to users of websites and other online services.” The CMA and ICO contend that certain OCA practices inhibit users from making informed decisions or exercising choice on how their user data is used and shared.

The ICO considers these practices a risk to data protection laws and intends to take formal enforcement actions. The CMA has prioritized tackling this issue in its 2023/24 plans through education and enforcement.

The joint paper intends to give clear expectations to businesses on how to present information and choice to consumers on their websites to ensure that users understand and consent before sharing personal information.

Specifically, the paper recommends that websites put users at the heart of the design, empowering choice and control, and complying with all data protection and consumer and competition laws.

Behaviors the paper specifically calls out as damaging include unnecessarily complicated privacy control settings, default privacy settings that give little control over personal information, and grouping privacy choices together that forces users to share more personal data than they would expect.

Other harmful practices include displaying cookie banners that don’t show all possible options for consumers or asking for personal data in exchange for discounts as soon as a user visits a website, which the paper calls “confirmshaming.” This practice uses wording that “clearly suggests that there is a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ choice.”

The ICO and CMA consider these practices harmful to consumers, particularly related to the amount of personal data that is being shared and used unnecessarily and harmful to fair competition.

The ICO is an independent body in the UK created to uphold information rights for the public. The CMA is a UK governmental department that promotes competitive markets and addresses anti-competitive behaviors.

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