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ICO reports rise in public trust in use of personal data


Mark Say Managing Editor

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People have become slightly more confident in how public authorities store and use their personal information, according to the latest annual track report published by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

It also shows the NHS coming out as the most widely trusted part of the public sector while local government is at the bottom of the rankings.

The survey, carried out by research agency Harris Interactive, involved interviews with more than 2,100 people from different age groups and focused on public perceptions of how personal data is shared and used by the public and private sectors.

It showed that for every part of the public sector more people had a high rather than a low level of trust and confidence, and that this has grown over the past year with awareness of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

For the NHS and local GPs, the figures for high trust have risen from 60% to 65%, followed by smaller increases for the police to 54%, national government to 51% and local government to 42%.

In all these cases there were still significant numbers who expressed low trust and confidence, but the figures have all declined slightly from last year to 12% for the NHS, 18% for the police, 20% for national government and 24% for local government.

Private sector increase

It is also notable the high trust levels for the different parts of the private sector have also increased from last year: to 46% for financial services, 33% for online retailers and 28% for mobile, broadband and utility providers, although the figures for low trust are generally higher than for the public sector.

The lowest levels of trust show for social messaging platforms, with 60% expressing low levels of confidence and only 15% high.

The big change since last year’s survey has been the implementation of the GDPR, accompanied by the barrage of notices sent by organisations to the public informing them of their rights and how their personal data is used.

The tracking report indicates that public awareness is relatively high, with 53% saying that they know about it and 29% having heard of it without knowing exactly what it is about. Only 18% were ignorant of the regulation.

Opinions were split on the question of whether people believe that organisations in both sectors protect their information from the risks arising from technology, with 39% agreeing and 32% disagreeing, the rest being unclear.

Automation concerns

Worries have also arisen around the risks in automated decision-making, with 51% saying they had concerns over personal information being used in an automated way to make decisions about them. This could have implications for the future use of machine learning and AI technologies in the public sector.

Among the other findings is that a big majority (78%) of people believe that if an organisation they use is affected by a data breach or loses information it should be held responsible, and the biggest concern is around personal information being stolen by criminals (expressed by 74%).

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham  (pictured) said: “Across the world people have woken up to the importance of personal data and how it’s used.

“Personal data has become the currency by which society does business, but advances in technology should not mean organisations racing ahead of people’s rights. Individuals should be the ones in control and organisations must demonstrate their accountability to the public.”

She added: “It’s certainly positive news that more people now trust organisations with their data and the GDPR and the new Data Protection Act 2018 will have played a part in this. Many businesses, charities, and public bodies have actively taken the time to explain the new rules and have actively taken on board new obligations to protect personal data. 

“However, there is still a long way to go and organisations need to realise that, unless they are trusted to properly look after people’s personal data, they will fail to realise its potential benefits to their business or the wider economy.”

Image from ICO

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