TRUSTe Study Reveals Extensive Tracking and Inadequate Privacy Protections on Top UK Websites

Companies Have Lots of Work Ahead to Address May 25th EU e-Privacy Directive Deadline

London, UK – 18 April, 2012 - Today, TRUSTe released the first UK Website Edition of its Privacy Index Series monitoring changes and trends in online privacy. This study reviewed tracking activities and privacy disclosures on top UK websites, revealing widespread tracking activity and the need for greater transparency around personal data use, especially on mobile devices.

With the UK compliance deadline for the EU e-Privacy Directive (aka the ‘Cookie Directive') fast approaching, many companies are reconsidering their approach to online privacy. TRUSTe's research found that top UK websites have, on average, 14 trackers (e.g., cookies) per page, of which 68 percent are from third-parties.

This latest TRUSTe Privacy Index also reveals that at 2,299 words, the average UK website privacy policy is more than twice as long as the typical Queen's Speech and over half the length of the Magna Carta. TRUSTe's analysis also found that only 6 percent of these privacy policies are optimised for viewing on mobile devices, underscoring the need for improved privacy disclosures for mobile web users.

TRUSTe Privacy Index: 2012 UK Website Edition – Key Findings

TRUSTe created this Privacy Index by conducting an in-depth analysis of the privacy policies and tracking activities on the top 50 UK websites, as ranked by web analytics firm Alexa Internet, Inc. in March 2012. Key findings from the analysis include:

  • Website tracker analysis revealed that users encounter, on average, 14 trackers per webpage on top UK sites, meaning a typical user will encounter anywhere from 112 to 140 trackers during their average session on a website.
  • 68 percent of trackers belong to third-party companies, whereas the remaining 32 percent are operated by the website owner.
  • While 96 percent of sites examined have a privacy policy, only 16 percent have a summary section of their policy providing high level disclosures for consumers to easily digest.
  • More than 1 in 3 privacy policies disclosed that they automatically shared user data with third parties for commercial purposes.
  • 48 percent of the privacy policies disclosed the collection of user location data.
  • More than 2 in 3 privacy policies disclosed the presence of third party tracking technology on their site.
  • 80 percent of the policies examined did not disclose how long the company retained user data.

Given their length, most online privacy policies are not easily accessible to consumers, limiting their ability to understand how their personal data will be collected and used. This UK Website Privacy Index reveals the ubiquity of online tracking (both first and third party tracking) on these sites and highlights the need for more accessible and easily understood privacy notices to supplement traditional website privacy policies. Because disclosures are not readily transparent, most consumers do not fully understand that when they visit a website one company can track their behaviour and yet another company may receive a copy of that data.

TRUSTe's 2012 UK Website Privacy Index serves as a follow on to the March release of a British consumer confidence privacy survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of TRUSTe that uncovered widespread privacy concern among online British adults. The survey found that 90 percent of British adults worry about their online privacy; 37 percent do not trust most companies with their personal information online; and 88 percent avoid companies that they believe do not protect their privacy.

"Clearly more work needs to be done to deliver shorter, more accessible privacy notices that can be easily understood by consumers so that they can make informed choices around their personal information," said Chris Babel, CEO of TRUSTe.

"Companies with an online presence in the EU are readying their compliance strategies for the Cookie Directive and our Privacy Index shows that one of their first steps should be measuring and understanding the true scope of trackers on their sites. TRUSTe stands ready to support companies in all aspects of their privacy management strategy."

About TRUSTe
TRUSTe is the leading global Data Privacy Management (DPM) company and powers trust in the data economy by enabling businesses to safely collect and use customer data across their customer, employee, and vendor channels. Our SaaS-based DPM Platform gives users control over all phases of data privacy management from conducting assessments and implementing compliance controls to managing ongoing monitoring. Our DPM Services, including assessments and certifications, are delivered by an expert team of privacy professionals. Thousands of companies worldwide rely on TRUSTe to minimize compliance risk and protect their brand.

Notes to Editors

  1. The UK Website Privacy Index was created by conducting an in-depth analysis of the privacy policies and tracking activities on the top 50 UK websites, as ranked by web analytics firm Alexa Internet, Inc. in March 2012. To view the TRUSTe Privacy Index: 2012 UK Website Edition go to UK Website Edition.
  2. The Great Britain Consumer Confidence Privacy Index (Q1 2012) was conducted online by Harris Interactive, on behalf of TRUSTe among a total of 2,012 adults aged 16 and older within Great Britain from 28 February – 7 March 2012 via its Global Omnibus product. Complete survey methodologies, including weighting variables are available on request. To view the TRUSTe Privacy Index: Great Britain Consumer Confidence Edition go to British consumer confidence privacy survey.
  3. For TRUSTe UK media enquiries and interview requests please contact Eleanor Treharne-Jones at +44 (0) 7811 093648 or e-mail eleanor@truste.com.