In an attempt to create a central online directory for privacy complaints against social networks and websites, the University of California-Berkeley has teamed up with a California-based privacy advocacy group to launch a service that allows people to share privacy problems with government agencies, lawyers, or journalists.

The San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC) is one of a handful of nonprofit advocacy groups across the country that monitor online privacy issues, and the group says that’s part of the problem: There is no centralized, easy-to-use place where consumers can file an online complaint about a privacy breach. PRC’s new complaint center, at www.privacyrights.org/complaint, is intended to fill that gap.

“There are so many places to complain that people don’t know which way to turn,” said Amber Yoo, project manager for the new complaint service. As a result, when privacy groups “have policy discussions, we don’t have a cohesive sense of what consumers think.”

The effort to create the complaint center began after a 2009 study by UC Berkeley’s School of Information and its law school. The “KnowPrivacy” study found that while consumers were not aware of the personal data collection practices used by websites and social networks to track their movements online, they nevertheless wanted more control over their personal information. Consumers also are confused, the study found, about where they can go to make a complaint.

The new complaint tool is a collaborative project with the Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic at UC Berkeley, and it was funded by grants from the Rose Foundation and the California Consumer Protection Foundation.

The service allows consumers to choose whether to make an anonymous complaint, or whether to share their identity and problem with journalists, lawyers, or government enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission or other state and federal consumer protection agencies.

http://www.privacyrights.org/complaint

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Jeff Festa