Europeans share data online, but privacy concerns remain

A new Eurobarometer survey on attitudes towards data protection and electronic identity released by the European Commission shows that three out of four Europeans accept that revealing personal data is part of everyday life, but they are also worried about how companies, including search engines and social networks, use their information.

The report reveals that 62% of people in the European Union give the minimum required information so as to protect their identity, while 75% want to be able to delete personal information online whenever they want to – the so-called right to be forgotten. The key principle of EU data protection rules is that users have to give consent before their data is used. This information cannot then be passed on without the user’s approval and companies cannot use it for purposes other than what was agreed. People's most frequent concerns are about fraud when shopping online (mentioned by 55%), information being used without their knowledge on social networking sites and data being shared by companies without their agreement.

The survey results come as the Commission prepares to reform EU data protection rules. The aim is to protect individuals' data in all policy areas, including law enforcement, while reducing red tape on business and guaranteeing the free circulation of data within the EU. The Commission plans to come forward with specific proposals before the end of the year.

The Eurobarometer survey shows that 60% of Europeans who use the internet shop or sell things online and use social networking sites. People disclose personal data, including biographical information (almost 90%), social information and sensitive information on these sites. 70% said they were concerned about how companies use this data and they think that they have only partial, if any, control of their own data. 74% want to give their specific consent before their data is collected and processed on the Internet. There is also strong support for EU action: 90% want to have the same data protection rights across Europe.

When it comes to protecting personal information, people have greater trust in public authorities – such as hospitals, governments and EU institutions – than in private companies such as shops, Internet providers and online services. 42% are using existing tools and strategies to limit unwanted emails and 23% are changing the security settings of their browser. This implies that people are unlikely to take proper care of their personal identity data online when simple tools are not available or are difficult to use.