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New data shows that in the UK, increased awareness of and engagement with robust privacy controls on websites have resulted in lower opt-out rates.

Four months after the UK 'cookie law' deadline, data suggests that the enforcement process, accompanied by a burst of compliance by businesses, as well as a high degree of media attention, is yielding positive results.

In short, it seems that the more people understand how they’re being tracked on websites, and the more control they’re given, the more comfortable they are with tracking. 

On May 25th, 2012, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the United Kingdom started enforcing the ePrivacy Directive, requiring websites that collect (and/or employ third-parties to collect) consumer data to disclose it to consumers, as well as provide them with a means to offer their consent to be tracked

The first EU member to enforce the Directive, the UK chose to allow businesses to use an “implied consent” mechanism on their sites. That means that visitors express their consent by seeing a conspicuous privacy icon, normally labelled “cookie consent”, and accompanying disclosures about the companies collecting their information, and have an easy way to opt out. 

  • In the UK, from June 1st to August 31st, the click rate on the privacy icon doubled to .3% from .16%, suggesting that people were seeing and/or learning about it more.
  • Simultaneously, post-view opt-outs in that same period decreased to .04% from .15%, suggesting that, once the waters settled a bit after the buildup to the deadline, consumers became less inclined to just turn off tracking, perhaps assuaged by the robust notice and consent options they were presented with.

Here is an example of live Evidon notices in the UK.

Reuters:

Nectar: 

The suggestion that increased awareness and control makes consumers more comfortable with tracking was also backed up by research we conducted with Toluna in June.

In other parts of Europe the situation is understandably different. In the Netherlands, where the government is pushing for compliance that is based on the stricter “explicit consent” model (ie, consumers must proactively opt-in to allow their data to be collected), privacy icon click rates and post-view opt-outs are more in parallel.

Clicks are on the rise, with more sites complying and increased media attention, and more people are opting-out after seeing privacy notice. It may be that getting people to proactively volunteer to be tracked is simply asking too much.

While the Dutch government set a September 24th deadline for government sites to be compliant, there is no formal enforcement yet, which means there is obviously less adoption of the Directive, and consequently less data on user engagement with notice. 

Similarly, in France and Germany, where there is no enforcement yet, both icon click rates and post-view opt-outs are consistently low.

Figure 1. click rates 

Figure 2. Post-view opt-out rate

Granted, this is all still preliminary data. But if UK data continues to play out the way it did in those first few months after the enforcement deadline, we may see other EU member states following its lead.

Protecting consumers’ privacy and giving them real transparency and powerful controls over how their information is use is paramount, but no one wants to damage responsible businesses in the process.

If the goal is that balance, the combination of enforcement (and the awareness that comes with it) and robust implied consent mechanisms on websites may be the path to achieving it. 

Scott Meyer

Published 30 October, 2012 by Scott Meyer

Scott Meyer is CEO at Evidon and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

1 more post from this author

Comments (5)

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Andrew Morris, Director - Web Analytics at Addison Group

I find the Evidon set up and others like it quite misleading.

The expandable menu in the bottom corner highlights the words "All off" next to Advertising and Analytics customisation which would mislead many users into believing everything is switched off in terms of tracking. Only the eagle eyed viewer will get past this point, also the effort involved in going to the individual sites to opt out of each service will surely cause people to opt out by leaving the site rather than visiting each individual tracking company.

The Nectar site as an example has 10 Analytics and cusomisation plus 41 Advertising providers with very little info provided about the cookies and what they do plus a mixture of opt outs allowed, not allowed plus some opt out on external site.

about 4 years ago

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L Harper

Are these graphs really from 2008? This seems in error.

Not to mention -- this article's conclusions appear to be completely un-substantiated. It's certainly not surprising that click rates went up immediately following a UI change. But coupled with the confusing opt-out experience the previous commenter noted, its hard to believe that anyone could come to the conclusion that people "are becoming more comfortable with tracking".

That this piece was written by the CEO of Evidon (creator of the Ghostery plug-in), makes me question whether I should continue using Ghostery or look for another tracking blocker.

about 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

The graphs are from this year, though the dates need to be corrected.

I think the numbers actually clicking on privacy icons are so low that it's hard to draw any firm conclusion, though it does make sense that, having seen some clear explanation of the cookies used on the site, people would feel more comfortable about it.

I've seen other stats from TRUSTe that show just 1.5% of people clicking to find out about cookies, which suggests that it just isn't an issue for the vast majority of web users.

about 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Alexander Hanff

re: Graham Charlton

Which stats from TrustE? The research paper I saw from TrustE showed just 0.06% of visitors clicking on the "icon" out of a sample of around 17 million visitors.

Also I note this site doesn't comply with cookie regulations...

about 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Alexander These stats, just published: http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/11001-majority-of-consumers-ignore-privacy-and-cookie-info-stats

Just 1.47% out of 35m users actually clicked to view cookie/privacy info, which suggests it isn't that big an issue for most people.

As for our site, we have a link to further information on privacy and cookies, and we are open about the cookies we set and the information we collect. If, having seen this information, people want to opt out, they can use their browser settings to do so.

That is as compliant as we need to be, especially since the audience of this site is one that is aware of the issues around privacy. In fact, the ICO's Dave Evans was happy with our approach.

More info here: http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/9453-econsultancy-s-solution-to-eu-e-privacy-directive-compliance

about 4 years ago

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