The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC) is proud to announce the launch of an interactive online complaint center designed to serve as a clearinghouse for consumer privacy complaints. This builds upon our 19-year history of troubleshooting consumers’ complaints and questions regarding a wide variety of information privacy issues, including background checks, debt collection, data breaches, financial information, and online data brokers. The PRC's staff will review and respond to every complaint, providing individuals with information and strategies to address their problem.
The impetus for the development of the online complaint center was the 2009 KnowPrivacy study, conducted by graduate students in the Masters program at the UC-Berkeley School of Information as well as the Law School at UC-Berkeley. The study found that consumers are concerned about data collection and want greater control over their personal information, but don't know whom to complain to. This presents a significant challenge given the important role that consumer complaints can play regarding the shaping of public policy.
The new online complaint center acts as a clearinghouse for privacy-related complaints by offering consumers a central point of contact. Complaints submitted to the PRC will be forwarded upon the consumer’s request to the appropriate governing body. Further, by acting as a magnet for privacy complaints, our goals are to:
- Empower Consumers. There are many avenues for consumers to voice complaints, but few that actually respond with personalized information. The PRC's staff will review and respond to every complaint, providing individuals with information and strategies to address their problem. We also offer individuals the opportunity to escalate the complaint to the media, public authorities, and, if appropriate, attorneys.
- Educate the Public Policy Process. As an education and advocacy organization, the PRC understands the important role consumer complaints play in fostering regulatory and legislative change. The online complaint center will enable us to identify trends and publish reports on key privacy-related issues that are of concern to individuals. By sharing this information with the Federal Trade Commission and other regulators at the state and federal level, public authorities can gain a richer understanding of the consumer privacy landscape.
The online complaint center, available at www.privacyrights.org/complaint, simplifies the complaint process into four main sections:
- Who are you? Consumers can choose to remain anonymous or provide their name and contact information. The only information we require is the consumer's email address and state so that we can properly respond to the complaint. Contact information will not be shared unless the individual chooses to share the complaint with government agencies, lawyers or the media.
- Whom/what are you complaining about? We ask the consumer to identify whom/what the complaint is about: a company or organization, a government agency or a person. If the complaint is about a company or organization, the site has an interactive “smart” feature that can auto-fill company information.
- What is your complaint? Consumers have the ability to describe their complaint in detail, attach supporting documents and add "tags" to categorize the complaint.
- Review and submit your complaint. Before submitting the complaint, consumers have an opportunity to review the entire complaint and make any necessary changes. There is also an option to print or email a copy of the complaint.
The PRC staff review all complaints and email a personalized response to the consumer within one to two business days. If the individual chooses to share the complaint with government agencies, we forward the complaint to the appropriate governing body.
The online complaint center also offers a registration feature. Those users who wish to register can login at anytime to update contact information, access previously submitted complaints, see staff responses to each complaint, and add new information to a complaint. Registration is completely optional and can be pseudonymous.
We invite you to celebrate a new year for privacy by exploring the online complaint center and sharing the site with your friends and family. Any feedback can be emailed to general (at) privacyrights.org.
The online complaint center is a collaborative project in partnership with the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at UC-Berkeley. The project was funded by grants from the Rose Foundation and California Consumer Protection Foundation. The PRC would like to give special thanks to Chris Hoofnagle, Jason Schultz and Rainey Reitman for offering their expertise in the early stages. The project manager is Amber N. Yoo, PRC's director of communications. The site was built on a Drupal platform by the Santex Group Company, a San Diego-based web development and design company.