Post-NSA government still trusted over private firms with personal data handling

By Danny Palmer
02 Jan 2014 View Comments
Data Matrix

Governments remain the organisations most trusted by the public to handle personal data, despite revelations about surveillance and data collection schemes by the US National Security Agency (NSA), the UK's GCHQ and other governmental organisations around the world.

That's according to research by accounting and consultancy firm Ernst & Young, which suggests that more than half of people - 55 per cent - say they're comfortable sharing personal information with central government organisations, such as HM Revenue & Customs and the NHS.

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However, consumers are more wary about sharing their data with private companies. Just one-third told Ernst & Young that they're willing to share personal information with financial institutions, while one-quarter are happy to do so when it comes to their energy provider. Only one-fifth of those surveyed said they're comfortable sharing personal data with supermarkets.

"What our survey shows is a shift in attitudes and practices towards how consumers treat their personal data, and the access they will allow to their data, both now and in future," said Steve Wilkinson, managing partner, UK & Ireland, client service at Ernst & Young.

"Despite well-publicised government mis-steps towards data privacy, consumers still appear more willing to share personal data with public sector organisations. On the other hand, there is a growing trend to revoke the access that private companies have to such information," he continued.

"As a result, we are likely to see a change in which bodies have the greatest access to customer information in the next five-to-10 years," Wilkinson added.

Of those surveyed by Ernst & Young, it was web firms that people were most claimed to be wary of sharing information with - fewer than one-in-10 said they were comfortable about sharing data with social networks, such as Facebook or web search engines like Google.

Only eight per cent of respondents said they trusted social networks with personal data and just seven per cent said they're comfortable with search engines holding their personal details. Mobile applications - which often request access to data they don't need - came out bottom of the pile with just five per cent happy to share information with them.

"When it comes to online channels, consumers are even more sensitive about who they are willing to share personal information with," Wilkinson explained.

"The rise of digital natives - those that have grown up with an inherent understanding of technology - means that today's customers understand the dangers of sharing information online and try to protect it by restricting the access private companies have to their personal data," he said.

Wilkinson added that despite a growth in big data and analytics solutions, many organisations aren't properly considering where they'll get their information from in 10 years' time, a lapse which could prove costly.

"Organisations are currently heavily investing in new solutions that can help them capture the growing volume of customer information and deliver insights that can be used to improve the customers' experience," he said.

"Despite the 'explosion' in big data - and new technologies that will capitalise on the opportunities that it affords - few organisations are currently thinking about their long-term investment or identifying what will be the biggest sources of information in 10 years' time.

"Business executives should focus on analysing the change in customer attitudes towards personal information sharing, to avoid rendering current investments pointless," Wilkinson concluded.

The Ernst & Young research surveyed more than 2,000 consumers and 748 senior business decision-makers about their attitudes towards personal data sharing.

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