LONDON, January 19, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Valued Opinions has revealed that its latest market research reveals anxiety over the privacy of personal data, particularly in the digital realm. Valued Opinion's online poll* results showed an overwhelming lack of confidence, with 74% of respondents expressing disquiet about companies collecting private data and 72% revealing that they only share such data with companies they feel they can trust.

The internet has opened up a Pandora's box of security issues as increasingly sophisticated and interactive websites use cookies to track web user activities and lay up their data for market research or advertising purposes. These latest online survey results reflect growing public concern: 63% of respondents agree with the assertion that technology is becoming too intrusive, and a similar percentage (61%) believes that the internet stores too much personal information.

A growing number of websites send cookies (effectively pieces of personal data) to the users' web browser where it's saved to the hard drive and can be retrieved, viewed or edited by the site. This clever technology is used for everything from user authentication to customizing website preferences and remembering the content of shopping carts.

However, only around half (53%) of respondents in the recent online survey are happy to share personal details even if it helps companies to give them what they want. Web cookies may also take more data than users imagine, for example sharing the kind of hardware and software we use and even tracking personal email addresses. Worryingly, 62% of the online opinion panel in the recent poll doesn't have a clear idea about the types of personal data companies are able to collect from them.

In theory, web browser security settings mean that the user can accept or reject cookies as they choose. However, the reality is more complicated. Firstly, rejecting all cookies means that users can't use a lot of websites, including those requiring log in (like Google or Yahoo). What's more, it's recently come to light that so-called flash cookies (used by Adobe's Flash program to set default volume levels, etc. on popular sites like YouTube) may have also been used to trace and store user information by defying the usual web browser security settings. In recent months, several law suits have been filed against media and technology companies that have apparently used these flash cookies surreptitiously, mostly for marketing purposes.

Although a staggering 88% of respondents in the Valued Opinions online survey believe that companies should be punished for breaking privacy laws, there is concern that the UK rules on internet security are not robust enough. BT's trial use of Phorm technology to track its users' browsing history received numerous complaints although UK authorities concluded that it broke no official laws.

The European Commission disagree; they referred the UK to the EU Court of Justice for failing to comply with its online privacy rules which has led to an infringement procedure and could result in a fine. In an environment of mounting public concern over online security, the outcome of this case is of great interest and importance.