ICO survey reveals falling public trust in data handling

The levels of trust in companies storing personal data have fallen significantly this year, according to the latest research from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The UK’s data regulator undertook 2,150 online interviews at the end of June, along with 80 phone interviews at the start of July, with a range of UK adults across the country.

It found that just over a quarter (27 per cent) of people have high trust and confidence (rating four to five out of five) in companies storing and using their personal information – which is significantly down from the 32 per cent stating this in 2019.

The proportion with low trust and confidence (rating one or two out of five) has also significantly decreased from 38 per cent to 28 per cent.

There have been slight increases in the proportion stating that the reason for their high level of trust and confidence is due to legislation (15 per cent from 13 per cent in 2019) and because companies protect their customers’ data and don’t sell data without gaining the appropriate consent first (seven per cent from five per cent in 2019).

The ICO found a notable increase this year in the proportion of adults stating the reason for their low level of trust and confidence was a belief that companies and organisations are profit-driven (13 per cent up from nine per cent) and this is now at the same level as data leaks/breaches.

Nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of those surveyed said they have high trust and confidence in the NHS or their local GP storing and using their personal information – up by seven per cent on 2019.

The proportion of people saying they have high trust and confidence in financial services (56 per cent) and mobile, broadband and utility providers (34 per cent) have both significantly increased since 2019 (up from 52 per cent and 29 per cent respectively).

Levels of trust and confidence in social messaging platforms storing and using personal information remain low, with only 16 per cent stating high levels of trust and confidence in them.

Levels of understanding of how personal information is used by companies and organisations remain at similar levels to 2019, with 15 per cent of adults feeling they have a good understanding of how their personal information is used by companies and organisations in the UK.

In the post General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) society, the public is by and large more aware that they have control over access and amendments to their personal information held by companies, stated the ICO.

There has been a positive shift in responses to statements about the use of personal information, especially so with the statement “current laws and regulations sufficiently protect personal information”, with the proportion agreeing up significantly from 33 per cent to 49 per cent since 2019.

Around a quarter (24 per cent) of offline respondents felt that “current laws and regulations sufficiently protect personal information”, while significantly more people also agreed that “it is easy to access and change personal information held by companies/organisations” than in 2019 – 40 per cent compared to 31 per cent.

The proportion of the public agreeing that “companies/organisations are open and transparent about how they collect and use personal information” has also increased significantly since 2019 – 37 per cent compared to 26 per cent.

Despite these positive shifts, the ICO noted that over half of the public disagrees that “companies/organisations are open and transparent about how they collect and use personal information”, that “it is easy to find out how my personal information is stored and used by companies/organisations” and “it is easy to find out whether my personal information is shared with third parties”.

Almost three quarters (73 per cent) of those polled said that if a company that they used was affected by a data breach and their information was lost or stolen, that company holding the data should be held responsible. Two fifths (39 per cent) of the public felt that the culpability should rest with the directors of the company holding their personal information.

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham commented that the past six months have seen a sharp acceleration in the use of digital services, which often rely on people trusting that their personal information will be handled fairly, lawfully and transparently.

“As a regulator, we play an important role in enabling innovation and enforcing the law – that work includes helping organisations to understand what is expected of them.

“There looks to be a good awareness of rights, such as being informed about the use of your personal information, though awareness of rights to influence that data use appears to lag behind a little,” she continued, adding that public trust remains fairly consistent – the proportion of people with high trust has dropped a little, but the proportion of people with low trust has reduced too.

Denham added that within the ICO these results will inform priorities, in particular how the regulator engages with the public and with organisations.

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