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Brits will sell their personal data for pennies

Surprising findings from an Okta report on digital identity suggest Brits would be willing to part with valuable personal data for a surprisingly low amount

While 96% of British consumers are uncomfortable with the thought of their personal data being sold, a significant minority of 36% would be willing to share their data with companies if they were financially compensated for it – a figure that rises to 52% of the 18-to-34 age bracket.

This is according to a new report from digital identity specialist Okta, The cost of privacy: reporting on the state of digital identity in 2020, which surveyed 12,000 online consumers – 2,218 in the UK – and found that of that 36%, more than half would be willing to sell their purchase history, location data, browsing history and details of their online media consumption, while 33% said they would sell offline conversations, 33% would sell biometric data, and 31% their passwords.

“It’s clear there is a cost when it comes to privacy – the question is, how much,” said Jesper Frederiksen, Okta’s EMEA vice-president and general manager. “Okta’s research shows that consumers would generally be willing to accept between £10 and £50 for their location data (31%) or browsing history (30%). Surprisingly, 10% would be willing to give away their password data for less than £30.

“If companies can strike a balance between privacy and innovation, consumers can have control over their data, including where it goes and whether they are compensated, while companies can still build products that benefit the world.”

While these findings might make worrying reading, the research showed encouraging signs that people are at least becoming more aware of how their data is collected, used and potentially sold, not least because of the high-profile failure of the UK government’s Covid-19 contact-tracing app.

When asked about the app specifically, 84% said they were concerned that if they used it, their data would be used by organisations for purposes unrelated to contact tracing, such as advertising.

Nevertheless, 60% of UK respondents said that they believed smartphone-based data tracking – if it ever becomes a reality – would be an effective measure to contain the virus.

Brits were also generally more willing than other countries – notably Australia, Germany, the Netherlands and the US – to give up some data in order to aid the containment of Covid-19, and were also comfortable with their data being collected for, for example, determining whether the virus is still spreading, tracking the contacts of diagnosed people, and studies related to the efficacy of any future vaccine.

“It’s great to see that despite privacy concerns, UK citizens are willing to provide their data in order to aid containment of Covid-19,” said Frederiksen. “However, it’s important that this trust is not abused. Over half (58%) of British citizens want a limit on who can access this data and many (46%) want a time limit on how long it can be tracked. Those collecting this data need to ensure they restrict who can access it and what it is used for.”

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More generally, the British tended to be uncomfortable with the idea of companies collecting their data, particularly offline conversations that might be overheard by smart assistants, passwords and biometric data. Many said they feared their data would be stored insecurely, and concerns were also voiced about sacrificing too much privacy, and how data collection might impact their finances, such as through increased insurance premiums.

Members of the millennial and generation Z cohorts were also statistically more likely to cite concerns over law enforcement agencies having access to their data.

“Businesses need to be more transparent about what data they’re collecting, how it’s stored and where it’s being used if they want to improve trust,” said Fredriksen. “We need to start having open and honest conversations about data tracking. Businesses require data to innovate and improve, but by not disclosing relevant information, they risk losing customers altogether.”

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