Estimated reading time 6 min

2018 was a wake-up call for consumers of digital services

The General Data Protection Regulation and the increased requests by services to accept their terms of use have been a wake-up call for all of us. What is the permission given for? The services and terms could be fair to all of us. It’s time to act.



Why does a phone service repeatedly ask to turn on location services? What do the various “See what you’ll look like when you’re old” and “Which celebrity do you look like?” challenges use the data they collect for? It is not only about my or your data, they also download our friends’ data and telephone numbers. Have we been asked for permission to do so and have I given my friend permission to leak my data as well? Do I dare use digital services anymore?

As many as 63 per cent of British schoolchildren say they would be happy if social media had never been invented (Fjordtrends 2019).

After the entry into force of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), businesses have increasingly aimed to cover their backs and required users to click an accept button before being able to use an application or website. The terms and conditions are too obscure for the common consumer, seemingly written in a foreign language by lawyers for other lawyers, so we click “I accept” to move on. What happens when we give permission, and for how long the permission may remain valid? Have the companies collecting data captured our minds and souls without us noticing?

The non-specific collection of data drives customers away.

According to a survey of the general public conducted by Sitra in 2018 (four countries, a total of 8,002 respondents), two in five respondents have discontinued their use of digital services because of a lack of trust in the service provider. In the MEF Consumer Trust 2018 survey (10 countries, 6,500 respondents), the same response was given by 39% of respondents.

Suspicion has clearly arisen, and some of us have already taken protective measures and tightened our privacy settings. According to the MEF survey, 69% of phone users do not download an application if it requests too many permissions, and 63% have not completed a mobile purchase because they did not trust the service provider.

It is a real eye-opener to request a social media service provider’s list of the data it has accumulated about you and to edit the settings to correspond with the data you are willing to give and whose advertisements you want to see. According to Sitra’s survey, only one in ten respondents have requested access to their data.

Has the game been lost? No; right now we have an excellent opportunity to have a say. GDPR has provided a good foundation for controlling the data accumulated about you. Now is the time to move from privacy concerns to adjusting the privacy settings for diverse services and building fair rules for the use of data.

Fair service providers stand out through their unambiguous terms of use.

Sitra’s survey of the general public in 2018 and the MEF Consumer Trust 2018 survey prove that users long for transparency and clarity the most. Terms of use should be written in a form comprehensible to ordinary people. Companies should also assess what data is actually needed, and not collect data just to be certain. The non-specific collection of data drives customers away.

This is the clear message to companies: the best way for fair companies to stand out positively is to offer clear and comprehensible terms of use that state what the data is collected for and why, and what it will be ultimately used for. They should know the customer on their own terms.

Sitra’s IHAN project promotes a fair data economy; fair to everyone, consumers and businesses alike. Let’s move forward!

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