Data revolution backlash: digital privacy angst grips

By Privitar - November 07, 2018

  • Consumers and businesses act negatively in response to data revolution fears
  • Privacy fears threaten big data science prizes such as tackling climate change and illness prevention

Consumers want to see immediate regulatory penalties for data privacy breaches and believe it is the responsibility of organisations, rather than their own, to protect their data privacy.  ‘Privitar Privacy Pulse’, an inaugural study published today, has researched the views of thousands of consumers and businesses across the UK, France and the US, shining a light on widespread concerns on the march of the digital revolution.

The research found that consumers not only have a punitive mindset when it comes to data breaches but are also prepared to take decisive action where organisations mishandle data, stating that they would not only stop using a service but would also advise friends and family to do the same and complain on social networks.

Jason du Preez, CEO of Privitar, commented: 

“What we’re seeing is a real backlash against the data revolution.  Our extensive study has shown that most consumers in the UK, US and France have real fears around the use of their data; feel violated where their data is mishandled and will stop engaging with organisations they do not trust.

“Business leaders show similar fears.  The majority do not explore the possibilities of analysing their data for fear of privacy risks and many say they do not feel they get the support they need to protect data, nor do they have adequate investment.

“The research points to a lack of privacy literacy amongst consumers, leading to a breakdown of communication and trust.  However, the research also finds a diamond of opportunity in the rough.  Brits are prepared to be won over.  A majority are comfortable sharing their data where the purpose is clearly explained; contrasting with the French who would prefer control.  British business is also reaching across the divide, pointing to improved customer service and retention as the biggest opportunities of improved data understanding.”

Headline research findings:

Global consumers

  • 90% believe technological advancements pose a risk to their data privacy (US: 92% / France: 90% / UK: 89%)
  • 77% believe it is the responsibility of organisations to make the purpose of data use clear (UK: 81% / US: 76% / France: 73%)
  • 23% believe it is their own responsibility to manage their data privacy (UK: 19% / US: 24% / France: 27%)
  • 68% would stop using a brand if they did not protect their data (UK: 73% / US: 68% / France: 65%)
  • 79% say organisations that fail to protect people’s data should face immediate penalties from regulators (UK: 83% / US: 78% / France: 76%)

Global business

  • 74% say preventing data breaches is a top priority for the business in the next year (France: 79% / UK: 75% / US: 66%)
  • 74% recognise risking the loss of customer trust and reputation damage if they fail to protect their customer’s data (France: 78% / UK: 76% / US: 69%)
  • 72% say they need more support in protecting their customers’ data (France 77% / UK: 72% / US: 67%)
  • 57% of senior executives say that risks associated with using company data are not worth the potential benefits to the organisation (France: 64% / UK: 57% / US: 53%)
  • 46% say organisations that fail to protect people’s data should face immediate penalties from regulators (US: 50% / UK: 45% / France: 42%)

Underlying punitive mindsets, the research shines a light on the lack of understanding of technology and data privacy protection.  Most worrying is the lack of awareness of the big data revolution prizes such as tackling climate change and improving healthcare.

The big social opportunity

  • 33% of consumers are aware their data is used to create innovative solutions to tackle climate change (UK: 32% / France: 33% / US: 34%)
  • 41% of consumers are aware their data is used to find cures for common preventable diseases (France: 36% / UK: 42% / US: 45%)

du Preez went on to say:

“Policy-makers, data scientists and businesses should heed the inherent warning of this research.  The UK government’s investment in the Industrial Strategy is funding important work in improving healthcare outcomes – be they curative or improving services – and the transition from carbon to clean energy.  There was a missed trick in the recent UK Budget to emphasise this message.  Our research shows neither the purpose, nor the existence, of this work is well understood by the population at large.  Consumers, who feel ill-informed and have legitimate privacy fears, are prepared to withdraw data use consent.  The data revolution amounts to nothing without the trust and support of consumers.

“There are important education and communications battles to be won.  It is vital that the public feels knowledgeable and onside.  We know that this is possible when we compare the so-called digital natives (18-34 year olds) against the over 55s.  Younger generations, who feel more comfortable managing their privacy and understand how their data is used, have not only grown up with technology but have experienced focussed education in schools.  Education and communication will be crucial for public sector organisations and businesses engaging with the older generation, in particular, who feel most fearful of a data-led world.

“Data science needs to inspire, reassure and explain clearly its purpose to engage individuals and support innovation.”

Global comparisons

Looking to global comparisons, there are clear specific issues within each geography highlighted by the study.  In the US, the research shows a contradiction between the fears of consumers and the confidence of business.  More pronounced than British and French consumers, 70% of US consumers are concerned about the ways companies are using their data and 92% believe technological advancements pose a risk to their data privacy.  This contrasts starkly with the views of US business, which are more confident than their counterparts in the UK and France.  While 68% of French upper level management feel the risks associated with using company data outweigh the potential benefits, only 38% of their US equivalents agree.  Similarly, 79% of French businesses say preventing data breaches is a top priority for the next year, whereas 66% of US businesses agree.

du Preez summarised:

“While we see universal privacy concerns across the UK, US and France, there are clear points of difference.  US consumers are distinctly more concerned about how companies use their data.  However, US businesses are more comfortable with privacy risk and it is less of a priority compared with French and British businesses.  While Apple may have made privacy a key selling point of its products but many US organisations are not as progressed.  Given public sentiment and, of course, the high profile Cambridge Analytica scandal, it is no surprise that regulatory moves are being made in the US.

“In France, there is less fear around privacy risks than in the US and a less punitive mindset than the UK but there is a much greater lack of understanding of technology.  A much higher proportion of consumers admit to a lack of knowledge of data protection (62% compared with 49% in the UK) and a higher proportion of businesses struggle to understand their own data (78% compared with 44% in the US).  French consumers are also much less likely to approve of everyday data applications such as using health data from wearable devices (19% compared with 31% in the US) or loyalty cards (17% compared with 32% in the US).  While we see more openness amongst UK consumers to embrace these kinds of business-led innovations, French businesses will need to work harder to win hearts and minds if they are to convince their customers that this is an appropriate use of their data.”

To find out more, download our infographic on the key survey results.

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