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Most Britons concerned about personal data sharing

Most UK consumers are concerned about personal data they have shared online, but few know the extent of that data or their rights, a survey shows, indicating a need for education and transparency

More than half of UK consumers (57%) are worried that about how much personal data they have shared online and 29% are worried about how much data they have shared about their children, a survey reveals.

Britons also feel that the data they share is not being used to benefit them, with 48% saying businesses benefit the most and 63% saying the organisation holding the data should be responsible for protecting it, according to a poll of more than 2,000 UK consumers commissioned by identity management firm ForgeRock.

Only a third (36%) of consumers say they would be likely to share personal data to get a more personalised service, with over half (53%) saying they would not be comfortable for their personal information to be shared with a third party under any circumstances. Just 15% say they would be likely to sell personal data to an organisation or business. 

At the same time, UK consumers underestimate how much personal information is available online, with 46% saying they do not feel they know how much data is available about them online, 19% saying they thinkTwitter has access to data on users’ political affiliations, 31% believing Instagram has access to location data on its users, 48% thinking Facebook holds information on whether they have children, and 20% believing Facebook does not have access to any personal data about its users, despite the fact that social networks have access to this data on a large number of their users.

British consumers are also clear that there would be consequences for any company sharing their data without their consent, with 58% saying they would stop using a company’s services completely if it shared data without their permission, 49% would remove or delete all the data held on them by that company, 44% would advise their family and friends against using the company, and 30% would request financial compensation. One in three would take legal action and 24% would contact the police.  

Growing concerns about data sharing

With the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) set to give consumers much more control over their personal data and how it is used, the survey report said it is crucial that members of the public understand their rights and how their data is being used and shared.

The ForgeRock survey suggests there are growing concerns about data sharing, which businesses and regulators should address. Some 63% of UK consumers say they know little or nothing about their rights regarding personal data and 64% have never heard of or know nothing about GDPR.

Eve Maler, vice-president of innovation and emerging technology in ForgeRock’s office of the CTO, said the survey suggests UK consumers are concerned about how widely their digital identities have been shared online, and how that information might be used by businesses.

“Given a choice, the majority would prefer to share less. This should be a concern for businesses, since many brands rely on data from consumers to drive revenues and inform business decisions. Organisations need to take notice of these concerns and focus on building trust and brand loyalty by giving consumers greater visibility and control over how their data is being collected, managed and shared,” she said.

“Given a choice, [most UK consumers] would prefer to share less. Organisations need to take notice of these concerns and focus on building trust and brand loyalty by giving consumers greater visibility and control over how their data is being collected, managed and shared”
Eve Maler, ForgeRock

Banks and credit card companies are most likely to be seen as trusted holders of personal data, the survey shows, with 82% of consumers reporting that they trust these organisations to store and use personal data responsibly. Amazon also performed well, with over three-quarters (78%) of consumers saying they trust the e-commerce giant to manage personal data.

Social media platforms performed less well, with 63% of Britons saying they trust social networks to treat personal data in a responsible manner.

There is a clear correlation between the organisations consumers trust with their data and how in control they feel, the report said, with Amazon (60%), banks and credit card companies (58%) and mobile phone operators (51%) ranked as the organisations that give users most control over their data. Just 51% of UK consumers said they feel in control of the data that is shared with social media platforms.

“It’s clear that the British public do now understand that ‘if you’re not the customer, then you’re the product’. With banks and online retailers, consumers have a clear transactional relationship. They are consuming goods or services so they know they are valued as a customer,” said Maler.

In contrast, social media companies offer consumers experiences without any financial payment – instead they pay in data. If companies were more transparent about how their business models rely on purchases, attention or data, consumers would have a much stronger understanding of what their privacy risks are and could tailor their behaviours and trust levels accordingly,” she said.

Read more about the General Data Protection Regulation

Although British consumers are concerned about how their data is managed and shared, only a few know how they can protect and manage their personal information, the report said.

Just a third of respondents know how to remove personal data they have shared online, while two-thirds say they know little or nothing about their rights regarding personal data shared online, and only a third know who would be liable if their personal data were hacked or stolen.

“Our research shows there is a real need for more education among British consumers about how personal data is managed and shared online,” said Maler.

“New regulations such as the EU’s GDPR are intended to put the public back in the driving seat when it comes to their data, but consumers are clearly not aware of their rights and many do not feel in control of their digital identities.

“Industry and government need to come together to raise awareness around how consumer data is used and the rights and protections that are in place. Failure to do so will ultimately result in consumers losing trust in the brands they deal with online, damaging both revenues and reputations,” she said.



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