Brits worried about how much personal information they share online

More than half of consumers in the UK worry about how much personal information they have shared online; two thirds know little or nothing about their rights.

A new survey into consumer attitudes to digital identity has revealed that a majority of British consumers are concerned about how much personal information they have shared online and know little or nothing about their rights regarding their own data.

UK consumers worried about how much of their digital identity has been shared

The survey, conducted by ComRes Global on behalf of digital identity management expert ForgeRock, found that more than half (57 per cent) of the 2,093 Britons polled worry about how much personal data they have shared online. A third of parents in the UK (29 per cent) are worried about how much information they have shared online about their children.

The research also reveals a lack of awareness about how much information is available online – 46 per cent of consumers in the UK say they do not feel they know how much data is available about them online – and suggests many underestimate how much personal data has been shared online:

  • 77 per cent of adults surveyed say that they use the internet to access products and services and make purchases – but only 39 per cent say that they have shared their debit or credit card details online
  • Less than half of consumers (48 per cent) think that Facebook holds information on whether or not users have children
  • Just 19 per cent of consumers think Twitter has access to data on users’ political affiliations
  • Less than a third (31 per cent) of Britons believe that Instagram has access to location data on its users
  • 19 per cent of consumers do not believe that Facebook has access to any personal data about its users

Strong resistance to brands sharing consumer data

Britons are also concerned about having their data shared with third parties. Only a third (36 per cent) of consumers say they would be likely to share personal data in order to get a more personalised service, with more than half (53 per cent) saying they would not be comfortable for their personal information to be shared with a third party under any circumstances. Just 15 per cent say that they would be likely to sell personal data to an organisation or business.

Eve Maler, vice president of innovation and emerging technology in ForgeRock‘s office of the CTO, comments, ‘Our survey suggests that British consumers are concerned about how much of their digital identities have been shared online, and how that information might be used by businesses. Given a choice, the majority would prefer to share less. This should be a concern for businesses, since many brands rely on data from consumers to drive revenues and inform business decisions. Organisations need to take notice of these concerns and focus on building trust and brand loyalty by giving consumers greater visibility and control over how their data is being collected, managed and shared.’

Businesses benefit from data sharing – so they are held responsible for it

British consumers also tend to feel that their personal data is mainly used to benefit businesses rather than themselves: 48 per cent of those surveyed believe that the data they share online is used to mainly or only benefit the organisation holding it, compared to just 12 per cent who think that it is mainly or only used to benefit consumers.

As a result, businesses are also deemed to be responsible for safeguarding customer data. Only 7 per cent of UK consumers believe that an individual is primarily responsible for protecting their own data; almost two thirds (63 per cent) say that it is primarily the responsibility of the business that holds the data. Just 15 per cent of Britons would pay anything to retrieve personal data that was stolen to ensure it was not sold or give to third party organisations.

British consumers are also clear that there would be consequences for any company sharing their data without their consent:

  • 58 per cent of consumers would stop using a company’s services completely if it shared data without their permission
  • 49 per cent would remove or delete all the data held on them by that company
  • 44 per cent would advise their family and friends against using the company
  • A third (30 per cent) would request financial compensation One in three (28 per cent) would take legal action and 24 per cent would contact the police

When it comes to data, Britons trust banks more than social networks

Banks and credit card companies were most likely to be seen as trusted holders of personal data, with 82 per cent consumers reporting that they trusted these organisations to store and use personal data responsibly. Amazon also performed well with over three quarters (78 per cent) of consumers saying they trust the e-commerce giant to manage personal data.

Social media platforms performed less well, with 63 per cent of Britons saying that they trust social networks to treat personal data in a responsible manner on average.

There is a clear correlation between who consumers trust with their data and how in control they feel: Amazon (60 per cent), banks and credit card companies (58 per cent) and mobile phone operators (51 per cent) were all ranked as the organisations that gave users most control over their data. Just 51 per cent of UK consumers said they felt in control of the data that is shared with social media platforms.

Maler, says, ‘It’s clear that the British public do now understand that ‘if you’re not the customer, then you’re the product’. With banks and online retailers, consumers have a clear transactional relationship. They are consuming goods or services so they know they are valued as a customer. In contrast, social media companies offer consumers experiences without any financial payment – instead they pay in data. If companies were more transparent about how their business models rely on purchases, attention or data, consumers would have a much stronger understanding of what their privacy risks are and could tailor their behaviours and trust levels accordingly.’

Britons don’t know their rights around online data-sharing

Although British consumers are concerned about how their data is managed and shared, only a few know how they can protect and manage their personal information:

  • Just a third (34 per cent) of consumers know how to remove personal data they have shared online
  • Two thirds (63 per cent) of consumers say they know little or nothing about their rights regarding personal data shared online
  • Only a third (34 per cent) know who would be liable if their personal data is hacked or stolen

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect this year, bringing with it new rights for consumers regarding how data is stored and shared. However, almost two thirds (64 per cent) of UK consumers say they have never heard of or know nothing about the legislation while just 7 per cent understand how it affects them.

Maler, concludes, ‘Our research shows there is a real need for more education among British consumers about how personal data is managed and shared online. New regulations such as the EU’s GDPR are intended to put the public back in the driving seat when it comes to their data, but consumers are clearly not aware of their rights and many do not feel in control of their digital identities. Industry and government need to come together to raise awareness around how consumer data is used and the rights and protections that are in place. Failure to do so will ultimately result in consumers losing trust in the brands they deal with online, damaging both revenues and reputations.’

Further reading on personal information

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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