By Jedidiah Bracy, CIPP/US

As it approaches its 20th year of consumer advocacy, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC) this week has unveiled an online tool to make filing a privacy complaint simpler. PRC Director Beth Givens says this new tool will not only help streamline and simplify the complaint process but also will educate consumers and connect them with the appropriate channels for help.

Found on the PRC website, the online complaint tool involves a five-step process, which takes about five minutes to complete. In addition to providing an e-mail address and state in which an incident occurred, users can choose with whom they would like to share their complaint--whether a government agency like the Federal Trade Commission, a lawyer who is “sympathetic” to a given issue, or the media--if anyone at all.

The tool aims to help the consumer determine against whom the privacy complaint should be filed--whether a business, government agency or individual. The complainant can describe the incident and attach documents that support a given complaint. For example, a user could file a complaint against a social network for refusing to delete undesirable photos posted by an individual for malicious reasons. The complaint could include a description of the incident, photos and a request to share the complaint with a government agency.

The interactive tool also features an autofill function that is sourced by the Consumer Action Handbook--published annually by the General Services Administrations’ Federal Citizen Information Center.

A catalyst for the new complaint mechanism stems from a study conducted by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley School of Information in 2009. In the KnowPrivacy report, researchers found that in addition to individuals’ concerns about controlling their data online and the apparent lack of awareness of companies’ data collection practices, users simply did not know to whom they should file a privacy complaint. “Even the act of complaining about privacy,” the report states, “is frustrated by a lack of clarity. Consumers do not know where to complain, in part because privacy policies do not provide clear information about remedies.”

At a PRC-hosted event that same year, consumer advocates discussed emerging trends, including the need for a privacy complaint magnet. Givens says that Chris Hoofnagle, director of the UC-Berkeley Center for Law & Technology's information privacy programs and senior fellow to the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic, called attention to this need.  

After receiving grant money from the Rose Foundation, the PRC was able to embark on developing the interactive complaint tool.

Givens says it explicitly prevents a user from providing sensitive personal information.

“People tend to give out their PII,” she says. “We want to make sure people do not include that information during the process.” She also says a user can provide a pseudonym instead of their real name.

Givens is pragmatic about potential abuse of the complaint tool, saying malicious intent is certainly possible, but “strategies are in place” to prevent harm.

Once submitted, the user receives a confirmation code and is asked if they would like to register. Registration allows users to track their complaints. The consumer is also given a list of pertinent fact sheets related to the incident. For example, if the complaint involved a social networking site, fact sheets might include ones on social networking privacy, Internet safety for children or employment background checks.

The goal is to get users to share their complaints, which allows the PRC to “raise awareness and work for change.” The PRC form points out that government agencies, lawmakers and the media are often "not interested in investigating a privacy abuse unless they know that it affects many individuals. By sharing, you are not only raising awareness, but you are also increasing the chances that key decision makers and gatekeepers will eventually take action on this issue.”

Givens is optimistic that the new complaint form will increase the overall volume of complaints that the PRC processes and is prepared to add staff.

“The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse complaint center will give consumers an easy-to-use avenue for complaints,” says Hoofnagle, “one that leads to substantive responses, and one that leads to a more precise characterization of consumer privacy interests.”


If you want to comment on this post, you need to login.


Board of Directors

See the esteemed group of leaders shaping the future of the IAPP.

Contact Us

Need someone to talk to? We’re here for you.

IAPP Staff

Looking for someone specific? Visit the staff directory.

Learn more about the IAPP»

Daily Dashboard

The day’s top stories from around the world

Privacy Perspectives

Where the real conversations in privacy happen

The Privacy Advisor

Original reporting and feature articles on the latest privacy developments

Privacy Tracker

Alerts and legal analysis of legislative trends

Privacy Tech

Exploring the technology of privacy

Canada Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top Canadian privacy news

Europe Data Protection Digest

A roundup of the top European data protection news

Asia-Pacific Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from the Asia-Pacific region

IAPP Westin Research Center

Original works. Groundbreaking research. Emerging scholars.

Advertise in IAPP Publications

Find out how to get your message in front the people you want to reach. Download a media kit now.

Get more News »

Find a KnowledgeNet Chapter Near You

Network and talk privacy at IAPP KnowledgeNet meetings, taking place worldwide.

Women Leading Privacy

Events, volunteer opportunities and more designed to help you give and get career support and expand your network.

IAPP Job Board

Looking for a new challenge, or need to hire your next privacy pro? The IAPP Job Board is the answer.

Join the Privacy List

Have ideas? Need advice? Subscribe to the Privacy List. It’s crowdsourcing, with an exceptional crowd.

Find more ways to Connect »

Find a Privacy Training Class

Two-day privacy training classes are held around the world. See the complete schedule now.

Online Privacy Training

Build your knowledge. The privacy know-how you need is just a click away.

The Training Post—Can’t-Miss Training Updates

Subscribe now to get the latest alerts on training opportunities around the world.

New Web Conferences Added!

See our list of upcoming web conferences. Just log on, listen in and learn!

Train Your Staff

Get your team up to speed on privacy by bringing IAPP training to your organization.

Learn more »

CIPP Certification

The global standard for the go-to person for privacy laws, regulations and frameworks

CIPM Certification

The first and only privacy certification for professionals who manage day-to-day operations

CIPT Certification

The industry benchmark for IT professionals worldwide to validate their knowledge of privacy requirements

Certify Your Staff

Find out how you can bring the world’s only globally recognized privacy certification to a group in your organization.

Learn more about IAPP certification »

Get Close-up

Looking for tools and info on a hot topic? Our close-up pages organize it for you in one easy-to-find place.

Where's Your DPA?

Our interactive DPA locator helps you find data protection authorities and summary of law by country.

IAPP Westin Research Center

See the latest original research from the IAPP Westin fellows.

Looking for Certification Study Resources?

Find out what you need to prepare for your exams

More Resources »

GDPR Comprehensive: Registration Open

New! Intensive two-day GDPR training led by the sharpest minds in the field. It's a can't-miss event.

The Congress Is Cancelled

The IAPP Europe Data Protection Congress 2015 is cancelled. Click through to learn more.

Sponsor an Event

Increase visibility for your organization—check out sponsorship opportunities today.

Exhibit at an Event

Put your brand in front of the largest gatherings of privacy pros in the world. Learn more.

More Conferences »

Become a Member

Start taking advantage of the many IAPP member benefits today

Corporate Members

See our list of high-profile corporate members—and find out why you should become one, too

Renew Your Membership

Don’t miss out for a minute—continue accessing your benefits

Join the IAPP»