Brands less trustworthy with personal data than government, say consumers

8th Jan 2014

Despite the turbulence generated by the revelations of the Edward Snowden whistleblowing affair, UK consumers are still more trusting of governmental bodies than private sector organisations, new research has revealed.

Conducted by Ernst & Young (EY) and based on a survey of over 2,500 consumers and business decision-makers, the research focused on data trust across varying sectors and channels.

It found that 55% of UK consumers were still comfortable sharing personal data with government bodies such as the NHS and HMRC, in contrast to private sector businesses which were deemed far less trustworthy.

However, overall the report backed up recent research by Fujitsu which declared that ‘consumer trust in data has reached a ten year low’ and that numerous data scandals in 2013 have led to a growing consumer scepticism about online information sharing.

Only a quarter of those surveyed stated they would be happy to share personal details with their energy provider, while just over 32% would be happy to share their data with financial institutions and only 20% with supermarkets.

Technology providers were deemed least trustworthy, however, with search engines (7%), social networks (8%) and mobile apps (5%) scoring lowest among consumers when it comes to personal data sharing.  

“What our survey shows is a shift in attitudes and practices towards how consumers treat their personal data, and the access they will allow to their data, both now and in future,” said Steve Wilkinson, Managing Partner, UK & Ireland client service, for Ernst & Young.

“Despite well publicised government missteps towards data privacy, consumers still appear more willing to share personal data with public sector organisations. On the other hand, there is a growing trend to revoke the access that private companies have to such information. As a result, we are likely to see a change in which bodies have the greatest access to customer information in the next five-to-10 years.”

2013 featured a string of hacks and privacy breaches for social networks and information-gathering sites, including a security breach of daily-deals site LivingSocial in April that led to over 50m customers having personal data exposed, and several high-profile Twitter accounts being hacked across the year, including that of the Associated Press (AP), which led to hackers publishing a tweet that declared ‘President Obama had been injured’.

The regularity of breaches has led to increased consumer uncertainty, with EY’s survey stating that 50% of those who use social media networks feeling their use has made them less open to sharing personal data, while 40% now restrict all access to their personal data on social media sites.

However, some may argue that such hacks paled in insignificance compared with the year’s major security story surrounding the PRISM surveillance scandal and Edward Snowden’s revelations about data sharing between NSA and GCHQ, yet this has seemingly only added to an overall awareness of information sharing, as opposed to a direct scepticism of how Government uses data.   

“When it comes to online channels, consumers are even more sensitive about who they are willing to share personal information with. The rise of digital natives – those that have grown up with an inherent understanding of technology – means that today’s customers understand the dangers of sharing information online and try to protect it by restricting the access private companies have to their personal data,” Wilkinson added. 

“Organisations are currently heavily investing in new solutions that can help them capture the growing volume of customer information and deliver insights that can be used to improve the customers’ experience. Despite the explosion in Big Data - and new technologies to capitalise on the opportunities that it affords - few organisations are currently thinking about their long-term investment or identifying what will be the biggest sources of information in 10 years’ time. Business executives should focus on analysing the change in customer attitudes towards personal information sharing, to avoid rendering current investments pointless.”


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