Consumers demand clarity and education on personal data usage

The UK calls for more education on data sharing after recent high-profile data breaches brought data security into public consciousness.

Consumers are being kept in the dark and are demanding more be done to educate the public on how their personal data is being used and shared online, according to a new OnePoll survey commissioned by IEEE.

Online companies have long seen the value in personal data and have sought to extract insights to improve products and services, however, recent high-profile data breaches have brought the security and use of this data into public consciousness.

According to the survey of 1000 UK adults, while consumers are aware they generate vast amounts of data online, 81 per cent believe that the public should be better educated more generally on how their data is being used online, while more than half wish to seek clarity from individual websites on their specific use of personal data.

Customers left in the dark

Online, we are generating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data daily and this data is shaping everything around us, offering detailed, qualitative insights into consumer behaviour and habits. Companies are understanding more about their customers wants and needs, yet consumers remain unaware of how their personal data is being stored or used.

The public call for businesses to be more transparent and provide fair exchange of benefit for the use of personal data is also being echoed by those within the industry and was a major topic of discussion at the Web Summit 2016 in Lisbon last week.

IEEE member Diogo Monica, security lead at Docker, thinks that education is important, but the onus for change has to rest with companies.

Monica adds, ‘In the same way we have service level agreements, there needs to be an agreement in place between organisations and the consumer on what data is being collected and for how long. Further, companies should aggregate users’ data in order to anonymise the information they hold and ensure that individuals cannot be identified.’

However, companies need to ensure there is complete clarity when speaking to their customers on such a complex matter and avoid any technical jargon.

‘You cannot consent to something you do not understand. One way to solve this issue is for companies to not assume the consent of users, but rather for users to have the option to opt in or out of sharing their data,’ Monica continues.

Companies are struggling to extract value

To date, this lack of understanding has affected public perception on the benefits of data sharing and analytics. The IEEE survey finds that 65 per cent of consumers are unable to cite a single good use of their personal data online.

Worryingly for online companies, 65 per cent are able to cite a negative experience as a result of a website using their personal data. With so much data available and 90 per cent of which being unstructured, extracting insight to turn into tangible, positive experiences is proving challenging for many organisations.

The survey also finds 85 per cent of consumers are unable to accurately say how many websites hold their personal data and well over half (54 per cent) claim they would feel more comfortable sharing their data with websites if they were explicitly told how it was being used. The sheer volume of data is proving unmanageable for consumers as well as businesses.

Monica concludes, ‘Consumers are certainly left in the dark on how much of their data is going to who, and this is a product of many companies approaching data collection in the wrong way. Too many websites take the approach of collecting as much data on consumers as they can, with little consideration whether it is valuable or not.’

The increased scrutiny of data handling and security has clearly impacted consumers, with over two thirds explicitly expressing concerns about how many organisations have their data, and combatting fraud was cited as the most acceptable (65 per cent) use of personal data.

According to IBM, 90 per cent of all data produced has been produced in the last two years and this data deluge is causing issues for both consumers looking to keep control of it and organisations looking to extract value from it.

Almost half of consumers want complete and total control over the data shared online and companies now need to do more to ensure the public are informed on what data they have and how it is going to be used.

Further reading on data

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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