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The BBC's John Moylan
"Children are particularly vulnerable"
 real 28k

Friday, 26 January, 2001, 10:33 GMT
Companies 'flouting' web privacy
Internet cafe
Getting personal in cyberspace: Consumers beware
European websites are no better at protecting the privacy of visitors than their American counterparts despite tighter EU regulations, a study has found.

Advocacy group Consumers International (CI) is advising net surfers on both sides of the Atlantic to be wary of details they submit online, because companies are failing to tell them how that information is being used.

Two thirds of British and American websites surveyed were found to collect personal data, but only a few gave visitors the option of how this data would be used.

Consumers visiting a range of retail, financial and health websites were often given no choice about being added to mailing lists or their details being passed on to third parties.

Anna Fielder, a Consumers International director, said: "We've found that too many companies collect a lot of unnecessary, very personal information about their customers.

"Because of inadequate implementation of existing government measures, people don't have control over their data."

Children 'vulnerable'

The study of 751 websites was conducted between March and July 2000 by Cl, which is a federation of 263 consumer groups.

The CI report also found that children were particularly vulnerable, as 10% of websites surveyed did not ask them to obtain their parents' permission before submitting details.

The group has suggested that consumers set up a separate e-mail account for e-commerce transactions, or even use special software to allow them to surf the web anonymously.

Concerns about the use of personal data, such as names, birth dates and addresses, for marketing purposes have increased in recent years as internet use has boomed.

The report called for regulations which allowed users to check on what data is collected and control how they are used.

An independent oversight body should be established to ensure compliance with existing laws, the report said.

The US is likely to pass an internet privacy bill this year.

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Putting trust online
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