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Knowing how comfortable people are with sharing data has never been more vital

  • Jed Mole

    Jed Mole

Created at July 24th, 2020

Knowing how comfortable people are with sharing data has never been more vital

How we live through the COVID-19 pandemic and move forward after lockdown, will inform our behaviour for years to come.

The role of data, in no small way, finds itself at the centre of this challenge and change. Coronavirus is a testing ground for data; for the good it can provide to keep people safe, to model outbreaks and even to make sure that the most vulnerable in our society are prioritised when it comes to everyday essentials. Data is delivering and, if used in the correct way, will help us as we manoeuvre our way through and eventually exit this crisis.

However, in our quest to provide answers or business solutions, we need to tread carefully. Organisations – be they governments or online retailers – must first understand the types of data people are willing to share and the specific organisations they are comfortable sharing that data with. Push too much and people will withdraw – or worse, intentionally give incorrect information – a phenomenon we identified in our report: Data Duping.  Misread the mood of the public with regards to their data and trust is lost, and with it the opportunity to use data to deliver value, utility and even protection.

Ahead of the virus outbreak, Acxiom completed a significant research project to understand the public mood as well as the tolerances and fault lines that map how people feel about sharing their data in the digital world. However, the work is well timed, given that no one could have predicted that this epidemic was on the horizon.

Recently we’ve launched the ‘Spheres of Trust’ report, the first in our series of insight papers. Exploring attitudes in the US, UK, Germany and China, the report looks at levels of comfort when sharing data online; what people are happy to share and with whom. This report identifies when people are content, cautious or concerned when it comes to their personal data.

As we confront the challenge coronavirus poses, we often look to use data to help us get answers or solutions. From ecommerce businesses marketing the right goods and services which are needed by people at specific locations, to tackling the big public health projects of nationwide contact tracing schemes, the challenge is the same: identifying the data that is needed and having the public’s trust to gather and use it. Our research into the Spheres of Trust provides useful understanding of where these tolerances lie.

The baseline is that people are largely comfortable sharing some of their data online, with only a small minority unwilling to share any data (approx. 15%)*.  It is therefore useful to understand what people are willing to share and with whom.   

However, a further pertinent example of these insights is that only one in five* people are comfortable sharing their health data online. This presents an immediate challenge in the current environment; although, when it comes to sharing accurate data, government organisations feature more favourably. Clearly, how organisations present themselves to the public when asking for personal information on health is key. As a brand, it can be argued that the UK’s NHS may more trusted than a private organisation asking for the same information – the question of who is asking for the data can be just as important as what is being asked for.

The coronavirus crisis is undoubtedly altering the way we consider our own data and will shape data ethics including regulators assessing real harms. But it returns us to a conclusion we often draw: people will share data if they feel they get value in return. Right now, people value their health and the ability to operate effectively online. Focusing on this value and showing the benefits that people gain is just one of the recommendations this report suggests as we seek to find ways forward and fulfil the promise that digital data offers.

* Censuswide survey of 3,000 individuals in the U.S., the UK and Germany, as well as in-depth interviews with individuals across all three countries and China.