Tech Giant GDPR Privacy Settings ‘Unethical’ Says Council

The ‘Deceived By Design’ report by the government-funded Norwegian Consumer Council has accused tech giants Microsoft, Facebook and Google of being unethical by leading users into selecting settings that do not benefit their privacy.

Illusion of Control

The report alleges that, far from actually giving users more control over their personal data (as laid out by GDPR), the tech giants may simply be giving users the illusion that this is happening. The report points to the possible presence of practices such as:

– Facebook and Google making users who want the privacy-friendly option go through a significantly longer process (privacy intrusive defaults).

– Facebook, Google and Windows 10 using pop-ups that direct users away from the privacy-friendly choices.

– Google presenting users with a hard-to-use dashboard with a maze of options for their privacy and security settings. For example, on Facebook it takes 13 clicks to opt out of authorising data collection (opting in can take just one).
– Making it difficult to delete data that’s already been collected. For example, deleting data about location history requires clicking through 30 to 40 pages.

– Google not warning users about the downside of personalisation e.g. telling users they would simply see less useful ads, rather than mentioning the potential to be opted in to receive unbalanced political ad messages.

– Facebook and Google pushing consumers to accept data collection e.g. with Facebook stating how, if users keep face recognition turned off, Facebook won’t be able to stop a stranger from using the user’s photo to impersonate them, while not stating how Facebook will use the information collected.

Dark Patterns

In general, the reports criticised how the use of “dark patterns” such as misleading wording and default settings that are intrusive to privacy, settings that give users an illusion of control, hiding privacy-friendly options, and presenting “take-it-or-leave-it choices”, could be leading users to make choices that actually stop them from exercising all of their privacy rights..

Big Accept Button

The report, by Norway’s consumer protection watchdog, also notes how the GDPR-related notifications have a large button for consumers to accept the company’s current practices, which could appear to many users to be far more convenient than searching for the detail to read through.

Response

Google, Facebook and Microsoft are all reported to have responded to the report’s findings by issuing statements focusing on the progress and improvements they’ve made towards meeting the requirements of the GDPR to date.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

GDPR was supposed to give EU citizens much more control over their data, and the perhaps naive expectation was that companies with a lot to lose (in fines for non-compliance and reputation), such as the big tech giant and social media companies would simply fall into line and afford us all of those new rights straight away.

The report by the Norwegian consumer watchdog appears to be more of a reality check that shows how our personal data is a valuable commodity to the big tech companies, and that, according to the report, the big tech companies are willing to manipulate users and give the illusion that they are following the rules without actually doing so. The report appears to indicate that these large corporations are willing to force consumers to try to fight for rights that have already been granted to them in GDPR.

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