New research finds data trust deficit with lessons for policymakers

New research for the Royal Statistical Society carried out by Ipsos reveals that the media, internet companies, telecommunications companies and insurance companies all come at the bottom of a "trust in data" league table.

The media, internet companies, telecommunication companies and insurance companies all come bottom of the “trust in data” league table

Losing or selling personal data seen as two of the top three reasons for stopping using a company – even more so than exploiting foreign workers, damaging the environment or even charging more than competitors

New research for the Royal Statistical Society carried out by Ipsos reveals that the media, internet companies, telecommunications companies and insurance companies all come at the bottom of a “trust in data” league table. Only between four and seven per cent say they have a high level of trust in these organisations to use data appropriately, compared with 36% trusting the NHS, and 41% trusting their GP.

Further, nearly all institutions suffer a “data-trust-deficit”, whereby trust in them to use data appropriately is lower than trust generally. For example, some of the biggest changes are for companies that rely heavily on data, such as internet companies (who are not trusted by 54% on using data (give a score of 0-4 out of 10), 22 points higher than the 32% who do not trust them generally), supermarkets (42% do not trust them on using data, compared with 23% who do not trust them generally) and telecommunications companies (54% do not trust them on data, compared with 40% who do not trust them generally).  

Younger people tend to be more trusting in the way institutions handle data than older people. For example, the British government receives a mean trust in data score of 4.8 out of 10 among 16-24 year olds, but a score of 4 out of 10 among 55-75 year olds. Similarly, internet companies receive a mean trust in data score of 4.5 among 16-24 year olds, but only 3.4 out of 10 among those aged 55-75.

The risks for companies from misuse of personal data are highlighted further as when prompted with a list of damaging actions, two of the three worst things a company can do to make someone stop using the company are to lose personal data (72%) or to sell anonymous data about its customers to other companies (63%) – more than choose exploiting foreign workers (37%) , protecting the environment (35%), or even charging more than their competitors (53%).

Part of this concern may be driven by the strong feeling that data-sharing is not benefiting the public themselves. Three-quarters of Britons (78%) think that companies use personal information for their benefit, not the individual’s, and 63% think the same of government and public services. The survey, carried out among over 2,000 online Britons aged 16-75, also found very few trusting that companies and government have their best interests at heart when using personal data (just 6% for companies, 11% for government), and only 15% feel that they personally have benefited from companies using their personal data.

However, even with the public sector, public support for data-sharing is very dependent on the exact situation, and need reassurances to allay their concerns. When asked to give their overall views towards data-sharing within government, people are more worried about the risks to their privacy and security than the benefits that data-sharing might bring, by 44% to 33%. But when told that data will be anonymised, this turns around to a majority in favour of data-sharing (55%, to 28% who think the risks outweigh the benefits).

Support – and awareness – for data-sharing under different contexts is also varied. For example, over seven in ten think that all hospitals and GPs should be able to access health records for patients’ care, and that tax and benefit records should be shared to help catch fraud. However, seven in ten think that online retailers should not look at past web-pages visited to send you targeted advertisements, and even more – 84% - say that health records should not be sold to private healthcare companies to make money for government.

Hetan Shah, Executive Director of the Royal Statistical Society, said:

“'Our research shows a data-trust-deficit. In this big data world, companies and government have to earn citizens' trust in how they will manage and use data - and those that get it wrong will pay the price. In particular there may be big benefits to be had from data sharing within government, but to get a public mandate policymakers must be clear about the benefits, and show how they will safeguard individual privacy.”

Bobby Duffy, Managing Director of the Ipsos Social Research Institute said:

“Public support for more sharing of their data is crucial to make sure government and society achieve the huge benefits possible. This survey shows that we have a long way to go – public knowledge of what currently happens to their data is low and suspicion is high – particularly where data may move between the public and private sectors. But the survey also holds out some hope – opinion is much more positive when people are given even simple reassurances on anonymity and how use of the data will be controlled.”

Technical note

  • Results are based on two surveys, both from an online quota survey of GB adults aged 16-75 using iOnline, Ipsos’s online omnibus. The first survey consisted of 2,019 interviews between 23rd and 25th June. The second online omnibus of 1,000 interviews was between 15th to 18th July.
  • The data has been weighted by age, gender, region, social grade, working status, main shopper.

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