Data watchdog not a fan of ‘abstract’ education campaigns

Publicity from ‘concrete’ privacy breaches more effective for conveying message, says Hawkes

Outgoing Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes in an interview with Centre for Irish and European Security director Sadhbh McCarthy at the Hibernian Club in Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

Do you know your data privacy rights? Whether the answer is "yes", "not a clue" or "have never thought about it for more than two seconds", retiring Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes is not convinced of the merits of "abstract" consumer information campaigns.

At an event in Dublin last week, Hawkes was in conversation with Centre for Irish and European Security director Sadhbh McCarthy, who wondered why, when her radio seemed constantly to emit food safety messages, there were never any advertisements telling people their rights in relation to the storage and transfer of their personal information.

In-your-face advertising

“Our capacity to engage in any level of publicity campaign is extremely limited. With more resources, we would do more in-your-face advertising about data protection,” said Hawkes. His office has done such campaigns in the past.

“But I personally have some doubts about the effectiveness of that type of advertising,” he added.


“I think getting the message across through stories in the media about concrete cases is probably more effective when it comes to educating people.”

People tend to think about their data privacy rights only when something happens that they don’t like, he said.

“I would just be careful about assuming that if you had a massive publicity budget, that people would necessarily absorb it.”

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics