Consumers Would Pay for Trustworthy Data Privacy

A recent survey of German consumers, often characterised as the most privacy conscious Europeans, suggests that a third of them would be prepared to pay to protect their personal data online.

As the report states, this translates to an untapped market worth around 900 million Euros – which is not to a number that can easily be ignored, even if it would be difficult to turn into a real business opportunity.

However, perhaps more damning of the state of trust in the online economy is that fact that of those two thirds who wouldn’t be prepared to pay, the main reason they gave was that they didn’t have any confidence that paying would actually protect their privacy.

Most people in the survey were aware that personal data has become the currency of the web, although an overwhelming majority didn’t support this core business model. It seems they feel that no-one is really being honest with them.

All of which gives support to the view from a recent US survey from Pew Research that consumers generally feel powerless to control their privacy online. It may also explain why 97% of the German respondents felt that regulators are not doing enough to stamp out and penalise misuse of personal data.

The Data Protection Regulation has proposed some eye-wateringly high penalties for breaches in the future.  However the real test  of the new rules will be how many companies will feel the force of any regulatory action.

The German survey suggests that regulators are going to have to go a long way to demonstrate to consumers that they are fulfilling their role of keeping companies in line.  This is much more likely to happen if there is evidence that the risk of enforcement itself is quite high.

If regulators focus on getting big fines out of a small number of very large multinationals, whilst larger numbers of smaller companies breaching the rules are left alone, then the DPR will not do its job of building much needed trust in the overall digital economy.

The Data Trust Deficit

The public has a broad mistrust of institutions, both government and private sector, when it comes to sharing and use of their personal data.  These are the findings of a new UK survey conducted by IpsosMori and the Royal Statistical Society.

In one of the most in-depth surveys in the issue of data privacy in the UK, the findings reveal significant differences in attitudes to sharing of personal information, depending both on who it was shared with and for what purpose.  However data use trust is generally lower than broader trust in the same organisations.

In general GPs had the highest level of trust – but even there only 41% of people gave them a high trust score.

Online retailers, mobile phone and internet companies, i.e. those that generally make the most frequent and visible use of personal data, scored amongst the lowest at between 6% and 13% trust. However bottom of the pile were the media and press – with a dismal 4% giving them a high trust score.

How the data might be used also has a significant bearing on attitudes, including taking into account whether or not the data is anonoymised.

So sharing government controlled data for public funded research has a relatively high level of approval (although still only 50%), while opposition to the sale of anonymised health records to private companies reached 84%, where the motive was seen as to make money for the government.

People who stated a low level of trust were also asked what the reason for their mistrust was.  The biggest overall fear was that organisations were not being open and honest about how they were using data.  This is very much in line with our ideas around the importance of increased transparency of data usage.

Very much allied to this is the general  belief that governments and companies were benefiting more that people from data use, as the responses below demonstrate.

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It was also clear that even when people could not see any obvious harm in data sharing, they still found it creepy.

The key messages of this survey for me are that if we are truly going to realise the benefits of the digitisation of society, including the promises of Big Data and the Internet of Things, then a lot more work needs to be done to inform and empower the people whose information is needed to make it all work.