Time to act over online privacy

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116064″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]When prompted to accept the privacy terms on a website do you just accept, or do you take time to manage your settings?

“If you’re like me, you end up rage-quitting the settings halfway through and you end up just clicking ‘accept’ because you’re frustrated, and you just wanted the chocolate brownie recipe,” confessed Rebecca Rumbul, a privacy rights campaigner with the Privacy Collective.

It’s a split-second decision but it can determine whether or not third-party cookies will sit on your browser indefinitely, tracking you as you browse from page to page. Third-party cookies don’t offer you or your device any functional assistance. They are there to collect information about you, primarily for marketing purposes.

“They create this horrifically complex massive profile that has a scary number of data points on you,” explained Rumbul. “And that’s a concern because I don’t know how that information is going to be used against me, used to put things in front of me, or used to decide things for me.”

Not only are many of these cookies unnecessary and invasive, but Rumbul and the Privacy Collective say that they are in breach of European data protection law (GDPR). That’s why they are now taking legal action against two of the largest players in the ad-tech space: Oracle and Salesforce.

“It’s absolutely the case that we believe these companies have been misusing personal data and misusing the way they collect information and process it,” Rumbul said. “We’re not saying they are necessarily the absolute worst offenders. The reason for going for them is because they are so huge, and their cookies are so widely placed that it affects a lot a lot of people and these organisations are the highest value players so they can afford to fight this and to pay compensation if we win.”

The legal action is being taken in the UK (England and Wales) and in the Netherlands. “The cases are fundamentally the same – they hinge on the same legal points,” explained Rumbul, who is the representative claimant for the London lawsuit. “I’m able to be the representative claimant because I’m careless enough to have these cookies on my system. I still click on the ‘accept all’ automatically before thinking about it.”

As a representative action, the lawsuit is being taken on behalf of everyone in England and Wales who has been affected by Salesforce’s and Oracle’s tracking cookies. If the lawsuit is successful, the Privacy Collective will divide the compensation among those affected. “What we’re roughly calculating is that every single person that was affected should get around €500,” Rumbul said, who will get her €500 the same as everyone else. “It’s not going to be very much money on an individual basis, but hopefully the hit to the wallets of these organisations will send ripples through the ad-tech industry.”

Raising awareness for the lawsuit is therefore crucially important, not only so people might eventually be able to apply for their share of the compensation, but so that they have an opportunity to show their support for the case. “We would love more people to engage with the issue, but in terms of a quick win, getting people to click the ‘like to support’ button on our website would be great,” Rumbul said

The Privacy Collective will need to demonstrate that, by and large, people are unaware that they are losing control of their data by accepting these tracking cookies. “Under GDPR you’re supposed to be able to consent and that consent is supposed to be informed,” explained Rumbul. “You cannot exercise your legal rights if you’ve lost control of your own information.”

“Loss of control is a real harm in itself and in violation of the GDPR, and loss of control of your personal data essentially leaves you vulnerable to a multitude of other harms,” Rumbul explained, giving the example of the harm that a barrage of adverts for baby products might cause to a woman who has just suffered a miscarriage. “Or the loss of control of my data, for instance, may result in me paying higher premiums for car insurance,” she said.

These cookies also have the potential to curtail other rights, given that privacy is a gateway for other civil liberties, especially freedom of expression. “The more people become aware of how much of their own data is being hoovered up, the more careful they feel like they have to be about what they do online and how restrictive the online environment becomes. Freedom of expression is very, very difficult when you have literally no idea what people are doing with your data.”

That’s why Index on Censorship is among the organisations supporting The Privacy Collective’s legal actions. Online privacy must be guaranteed in order for freedom of expression to thrive.

Individual internet users are also invited to support simply by clicking the ‘like to support’ button on The Privacy Collective’s website or by contacting The Privacy Collective: [email protected].[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Quiz: How well do you know your privacy facts?


Richard Patterson/Flickr


“Tracking apps”, “social distancing”, “quarantine” – all terms that have dominated the 2020 news cycle so far (remember when it was just about Brexit and Donald Trump?). But how much do you actually know about tracking apps after months of them making headlines? And as for drones, you’ve heard they’re checking up on us, but do you know how many the British police have in their fleet? 

Take our quiz based on the latest issue of Index on Censorship magazine, Private Lives, to find out the answers to these questions, and more.

Quiz: How well do you know your 'private' facts?

What fraction of Italian families didn't own a computer, laptop or tablet in 2019?
Aum Oer/Flickr
How many drones do the UK police collectively have in their fleet?
Colin. C. James/Flickr
Who said this: “God Almighty planted a garden. And indeed it is the purest of human pleasures. It is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man.”?
Tejvan Pettinger /Flickr
According to a poll by the South Korean culture ministry, what percentage of South Koreans believe that the government should track the movements of people in quarantine, with or without their consent?
Pedro Cambra/Flickr
What is the name of the Turkish tracking app?
Rawpixel Ltd/Flickr
How much did the Mexican government spend on Italian spyware company HackingTeam’s products?
Kieran Lamb/Flickr
The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, is the youngest head of state in the western hemisphere. As of June 2020, how old is he?
Presidencia El Salvador/Flickr
Who said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”?
Matt Brown/Flickr
How long has Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni been in power?
Under Hungary's Coronavirus Act, what is the maximum prison sentence if you are accused of spreading misinformation?
Jeff Egnaczyk/Flickr
Quiz: How well do you know your 'private' facts?
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Does using Covid-19 apps have free speech implications?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”What do citizens in South Korea, Italy and Spain think about the long-term consequences of signing up to Covid-19 apps? Our reporters Silvia Nortes, Steven Borowiec and Laura Silvia Battaglia report for Index on Censorship magazine.” google_fonts=”font_family:Libre%20Baskerville%3Aregular%2Citalic%2C700|font_style:400%20italic%3A400%3Aitalic”][vc_single_image image=”114058″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]

We feature here extracts from the full magazine article.


Kim Ki-kyung, a 28-year-old who lives in Seoul, is used to the idea of his mobile phone tracking his movements, so he wasnt bothered when he learned that his government would have access to his location data as part of efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

He is far from the only one being tracked in this way. Several times a day, the millions of smartphones in South Korea bleat in unison with alerts from governments that users cannot opt out of receiving. When COVID-19 cases are diagnosed, the age and gender of the patients is disclosed to the public, along with the routes the patients took in the days before their diagnosis, so that others can avoid those places.

While the system raises issues of privacy, Kim thinks the potential benefits outweigh the concerns. Everyone is at least somewhat reluctant to share personal data with the government, but the tracking app allows the authorities to monitor people who are in self-quarantine, and will allow epidemiological surveys to be done faster,Kim said.

The government system sounds terrible at first but it really isnt all that different from regular smart services, like Google Maps or Nike Run Club,Kim said.

Kim says he follows, through the news, how the government plans to handle the data gleaned from the program, but isnt much worried about the data being used for some nefarious purpose somewhere down the road. He feels the more urgent task is containing the public health crisis. 


In Spain, our interviews found respondents were more concerned about the use of personal information collected by monitoring apps, than in the other countries. The main conclusion drawn from the interviews is that people do not trust this system completely and fear data might be misused by the government and private companies, perhaps because some people have memories of what it was like living under the General Franco dictatorship.

Juan Giménez, 28, agreed with using these apps “only for controlling the spread of the virus. Cristina Morales, 26, considers it “a violation of privacy, but, at the same time, it is appropriate to guarantee the citizenssafety and prevent confinement violations.

Ana Corral, 22,said it is OK as long as we know which information is used exactly, how it will be used and where the data is saved. If the goal is to know if you might have infected or been infected, that is fine”.

Some also mention social good as a priority. There are always individual sacrifices for the common good”, said Manuel Noguera, 40. For Eduardo Manjavacas, 40, “the end justifies the means.” Everything made for a global good and with a clear privacy policy is welcome. We live in a digital age, our data is studied daily for commercial purposes”, said Amelia Rustina, 30, while Sabina Urraca, 36, added she is ready for that sacrifice. I would like to trust individual responsibility, but I don’t.

On the other hand, older people are more reluctant, and many claim they would not register in these apps at all.


They trust the government but with some doubts; they believe that giving up part of their privacy is a negotiable asset to protect public health; they want more reassurances on the functioning of the tracking app, wishing to know who will keep the sensitive data after the end of the pandemic.

These are the attitudes of Italian citizens of all ages relating to the use of a Covid-19 tracking app.

Index spoke to 50 Italian citizens – aged between 20 and 60, of different parts of the country, different professions and different backgrounds about their thoughts on the Immuni tracking app announced by the Italian government as part of its approach to Covid-19.The Immuni app was preceded by a similar experiment in the Italian region most affected by the pandemic: Lombardy, where some of them live.

Federica Magistro, 22, university student, and Anna Pesco, 60, a teacher, living in Milan have downloaded the app in Lombardy, and are currently using it. They also plan to use the national app. Both hope that the remaining 60% of Italians also think the same way, so it maximises its use to of the entire population. Federica said: “I think I should trust those who are developing it and the government that offers it”, while Tesco said: “I would like maximum transparency and I would like to have absolute guarantee on the cancellation of my data at the end of the pandemic.”

You can read the whole of this article in our Summer 2020 issue, available by print subscription here and by digital subscription here.  


Back-up plan: Timandra Harkness on contact tracing apps

CREDIT: Donna Grethen/Ikon

In some ways, it’s a good thing there are no parties at the moment, I would be the person trapping you in the corner, explaining the difference between centralised and decentralised Bluetooth contact-tracing apps, and why de-centralised is better for your privacy, and why some governments are so keen to use the other kind to get more data.

If you’re lucky, we might move the conversation on to how weird it is that Google and Apple are co-operating to design their own, decentralised, privacy-protecting, software for contact-tracing apps – and how it’s even weirder that the two tech giants are effectively forcing governments around the world to use that system.

They want their app to work properly on Apple or Android phones (i.e. most smartphones), because an effective app needs about 80% of smartphone users to run it.

I mean, Silicon Valley protecting our privacy against our own governments? Unprecedented times, indeed.

At this point, let’s suppose that I pause to sip my beer and you make your escape. If we were both using a contact-tracing app, the fact we’d been close together would already have been logged.

We might never have to share that information, especially if neither of us is diagnosed with Covid-19 in the near future, but our social connections have become fodder for state surveillance in a way that would be anathema in normal circumstances.

In South Korea, contact tracing has been very effective at containing Covid-19, but it also publicised the locations of Seoul nightclubs where recent infections took place, which led to the stigmatising of the gay community.

While I have reservations about particular uses of technologies, I accept that our social connections have become the vector for a nasty virus.

I would welcome an efficient system of contact tracing, which means one run by humans even though that makes it even more intrusive.

Coronavirus is a shared problem that needs shared solutions, and I have voluntarily signed up for other apps that request much more personal information to help researchers under-stand and track the pandemic.

But remember the wise words of former Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel (and Winston Churchill, and Niccolo Machiavelli): “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

More importantly, remember that those in power have already remembered that. Measures being taken now to fight a deadly virus might turn out to be handy for other purposes later. Further research that could be useful for future pandemics- who could object to that?

You can read the whole of this article in our Summer 2020 issue, available by print subscription here and by digital subscription here.