Figures question public data fears

800px-Shopware-general-Woman-and-LaptopWidespread concerns that consumers are losing sleep over data protection issues have been called into question following the publication of new figures which reveal low levels of complaints – even over serious breaches.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by TechWeekEurope shows that O2 attracted more complaints to the Information Commissioner’s Office over the past year than any other organisation in the UK – either in the public or private sectors – and even more than Google and Sony combined.
But the relatively low level of complaints – just 48 about the mobile phone giant’s actions – is dwarfed by those received by other watchdogs. The Advertising Standards Authority regularly gets hundreds of complaints a week about single ads, while it was revealed earlier this week that Royal Mail gets more than 1.2 million a year.
Data protection lawyer Stewart Room, a partner at Field Fisher Waterhouse, said he was surprised by the figures. He added: “It suggests that members of the public in the UK are not as stressed out by data protection as the regulators might have us believe – or else they may not actually know about the ICO and its powers.”
Even last year’s PlayStation Network and Sony Online Entertainment breaches – which saw upwards of 100 million users’ data compromised – only sparked one complaint to the ICO. In fact, the regulator has only received six complaints about Sony since April 2011.
As for Google, the ICO received just 30 complaints between January 1 2009 and August 28 2012. Of those, 17 related to Street View, but 14 were only complaints about Street View images. Just three related to the wi-fi data “slurping” issue.
For its part, O2 was bullish about the findings. “We take data protection very seriously,” a spokesman said. “This is the number of complaints which the ICO has received; it does not necessarily mean the ICO upheld the complaints.”

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