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Too late to protect online privacy, say Brits

Most UK consumers are concerned about data privacy, but think it’s too late to do much about it, according to a report

Nearly 80% of UK consumers believe they have lost any semblance of control over how their personal data is collected and used by companies, while 64% think it is impossible to protect their online privacy and 61% say it is now too late to do so.

These are just some of the findings of a new report, Cyber safety insights, released by NortonLifeLock – the consumer security company formerly known as Symantec. Based on data collected in 10 countries worldwide, the study found that Britons tend to be more concerned about privacy issues, and are also more likely to refuse to use services that worry them.

Even so, although two-thirds of Brits said there had been times when they decided not to download a certain app or use a service based on its privacy policy, the same proportion admitted to accepting a certain level of online privacy risk for the sake of convenience.

Gareth Lockwood, general manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at NortonLifeLock, said that in taking the attitude that “the horse has bolted”, people were in danger of putting themselves at greater risk of falling victim to cyber criminals.

“This is further amplified by the conviction that their information is already out of their own hands, as well as their willingness to trade off their privacy for convenience,” he said.

“Growing awareness around data privacy issues has compelled consumers to seek more control over their data and take some action to protect their privacy online. However, with over half of Brits saying they don’t know how to safeguard their online privacy, there is still a clear need for education on how people can keep themselves, and their data, safe online.”

The extensive study found that 86% claimed to have taken at least one step to protect themselves online, such as clearing or disabling cookies, limiting what they share on social media platforms, and not using public Wi-Fi. Almost exactly the same proportion said they could still do more to protect themselves.

In terms of what keeps consumers awake at night, NortonLifeLock found that 65% of Brits believe facial recognition technology will be misused and abused, and 42% believe it will do more harm than good – even though the majority also seem to support its use, with over 70% supporting its use by law enforcement.

Having their data exposed and stolen by cyber criminals was a concern for 52%, and having their data sold to third parties and used without their consent worried 42% of respondents.

Meanwhile, 37% said privacy concerns were preventing them from adopting more smart home technology.

Read more about security attitudes

Some of the worries highlighted in the report were at least grounded in reality, with 53% of UK consumers saying they had been victims of cyber crime, one-third in the past 12 months alone, with about £1.4bn and 64 million hours lost dealing with the fallout.

NortonLifeLock reiterated the usual advice around adhering to basic cyber security hygiene. This includes paying attention to the terms and conditions of any new services you sign up to; checking and rescinding permissions for any that you have already signed up to; modifying the default security settings of smart home and other internet of things devices; and keeping devices patched and up to date.

The data for the study was gathered online by Harris Poll, on a sample of 10,063 adults in Australia, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK and the US. Weighted variables varied by country – in the UK these factors included age, gender, region, education, employment and internet usage. The full report can be downloaded from the NortonLifeLock website.

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