The world runs on data. Here’s how to get people to trust your company with it.

A reputational perspective on ethical and secure use of consumer data in the COVID-19 world.

In the past three months, society has taken a dramatic digital shift. With 81% of Americans saying they now only leave their home for necessities, we now live in a world where many consumers shop, work, bank, connect with people and find entertainment online.

But the resulting increase to America’s digital footprint leaves even more personal data in the hands of others. Therein lies the reputational challenge of the coronavirus digital world: What will organizations have to do for people to trust them with their data?


Safeguarding the digital space is a challenge for industries all over the world. Before COVID-19, we saw a global lack of trust in providing personal information to organizations, and policies and regulations such as GDPR and CCPA have made data privacy an even more fearsome legal issue.


When the coronavirus upended the world, it brought economic uncertainty, political turmoil, misleading information, social unrest, public safety and healthcare concerns – issues that have caused massive trust shifts. And while some industries are having a trust boom, others have been caught in trust declines.

We believe that data privacy – and trust in an organization’s ability to use consumers’ data responsibly – is one of these key issues that organizations will need to understand and manage carefully.


Now, more than ever, people are seeking ways to substitute their prior retail existence with a new digital reality.  Online queries for things such as groceries and home gyms spike in the spring, declining into May as people found vendor of choice and shifted their behavior to digital shopping.  The most staggering shift in online behavior might be in the way we people communicate with each other, revealing a sharp increase in video conference application downloads.


All of this results in organizations having more data, about consumers, than they ever have had before.  Which, in turn, places organizations under greater scrutiny; including ethical expectations by policy makers and general public alike on what they plan to use the data for.

There is no doubt that we will see an array of solutions in the days and months ahead that compel – and in some cases force people to trust organizations with their data.

One example: the use of mobile phone location data to track possible interactions with people who may have had COVID-19 – technology known as contact tracing.  Several organizations, are already beginning to use mobile devices to gather location data as a means of predicting and preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

But in our Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index, we found that only 41% of Americans would be willing to participate in such a program. As the number of policies that request or require the use of contact tracing increase, the challenge of forcing consumers to trust organizations with their data will only intensify.


How to gain trust

Consumers have seen enough data breaches, bad actors and unethical behavior to be skeptical of organizations who want their personal data – but organizations can still work to gain their confidence. Here are some examples of how to successfully build trust over the long term.

Know, and continually monitor, where you stand reputationally with your stakeholders:

  • Identify knowledge gaps and educate stakeholders
  • Un-addressed issues are an open door to a potential crisis

Develop a keen understanding of what your stakeholders think and feel about data and privacy. This should include creating a reputational assessment of your organization, and others, as well. This landscape analysis will establish an overall understanding of what stakeholders know, what they feel, what they expect, and what they are prepared to do.

Find your trust opportunity:

  • Lack of trust is an opportunity to engage
  • Changing behaviors is a key time to win over trust
  • Communicate in a way that builds familiarity and rapport

Identify trust gaps and core issues that cause erosion in confidence between your stakeholders and your organization. Understanding salience and convictions is a critical element in identifying roadblocks and catalysts to building trust with your stakeholders.

Leverage trust equity:

  • Trust equity grants permission and benefit of the doubt
  • Work in coalitions that have strong trust equity to gain traction

Organizations with strong levels of trust generally have a stronger voice when it comes to making an “ask” from a stakeholder. They also suffer less when an organizational misstep occurs. If your organization doesn’t have a strong level of trust equity, consider partnering with a credible author or building a coalition.

For example, looking at the data below, we found that most consumers are more likely to trust sharing their location data with hospitals over all other types of organizations tested. Even among Republicans (who are more likely to oppose data tracing) we see stronger levels of trust in sharing location data with hospitals and healthcare organizations.


Develop organizational policies and communications strategies that ease fears and permit trust:

  • Identify policies that generate the goodwill
  • Message and frame in a manner that builds context

Gaining trust from stakeholders is easier when they understand both the extent and context of their trust environment on the issue.  For example organizations may want to consider employing a range of policies that demonstrate steps to secure, and better understand, data privacy.