Thought leadership

More than half of consumers in the UK worry about how much personal data they have shared online; two thirds know little or nothing about their rights

A new survey into consumer attitudes to digital identity has revealed that a majority of British consumers are concerned about how much personal data they have shared online and know little or nothing about their rights regarding their own data.

The survey, conducted by ComRes Global on behalf of digital identity management expert ForgeRock, found that more than half (57%) of the 2,093 Britons polled worry about how much personal data they have shared online. A third of parents in the UK (29%) are worried about how much information they have shared online about their children.

The research also reveals a lack of awareness about how much information is available online – 46% of consumers in the UK say they do not feel they know how much data is available about them online – and suggests many underestimate how much personal data has been shared online:

  • 77% of adults surveyed say that they use the internet to access products and services and make purchases – but only 39% say that they have shared their debit or credit card details online
  • Less than half of consumers (48%) think that Facebook holds information on whether or not users have children
  • Just 19% of consumers think Twitter has access to data on users’ political affiliations
  • Less than a third (31%) of Britons believe that Instagram has access to location data on its users
  • 19% of consumers do not believe that Facebook has access to any personal data about its users

Strong resistance to brands sharing consumer data

Britons are also concerned about having their data shared with third parties. Only a third (36%) of consumers say they would be likely to share personal data in order 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 that they would be likely to sell personal data to an organisation or business.

Eve Maler, Vice President of Innovation & Emerging Technology in ForgeRock’s Office of the CTO, commented: “Our survey suggests that British consumers are concerned about how much of 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.”

Businesses benefit from data sharing – so they are held responsible for it

British consumers also tend to feel that their personal data is mainly used to benefit businesses rather than themselves: 48% of those surveyed believe that the data they share online is used to mainly or only benefit the organisation holding it, compared to just 12% who think that it is mainly or only used to benefit consumers.

As a result, businesses are also deemed to be responsible for safeguarding customer data. Only 7% of UK consumers believe that an individual is primarily responsible for protecting their own data; almost two thirds (63%) say that it is primarily the responsibility of the business that holds the data. Just 15% of Britons would pay anything to retrieve personal data that was stolen to ensure it was not sold or give to third party organisations.

British consumers are also clear that there would be consequences for any company sharing their data without their consent:

  • 58% of consumers 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
  • A third (30%) would request financial compensation One in three (28%) would take legal action and 24% would contact the police

When it comes to data, Britons trust banks more than social networks

Banks and credit card companies were most likely to be seen as trusted holders of personal data, with 82% consumers reporting that they trusted 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 that they trust social networks to treat personal data in a responsible manner on average.

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

Eve Maler: “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. 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.”

Britons don’t know their rights around online data-sharing

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:

  • Just a third (34%) of consumers know how to remove personal data they have shared online
  • Two thirds (63%) of consumers say they know little or nothing about their rights regarding personal data shared online
  • Only a third (34%) know who would be liable if their personal data is hacked or stolen

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect this year, bringing with it new rights for consumers regarding how data is stored and shared. However, almost two thirds (64%) of UK consumers say they have never heard of or know nothing about the legislation while just 7% understand how it affects them.

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

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