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Survey shows mixed public views on attitudes to use of data


Mark Say Managing Editor

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A majority of the public are open to data being used for a range of purposes for the public good, but there are concerns around security and that benefits will not be shared equally, according to a new report.

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI), which works within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), has highlighted the findings from the first wave of its tracker survey on public attitudes to data and AI.

Among the findings was the 81% of people are comfortable providing personal data to the NHS to develop new healthcare treatments and 62% are positive about doing so with government to deliver public services.

These come with 40% agreeing with a broad proposition that collecting and analysing data is good for society.

Some issues raise concerns, however, with 52% saying they know only a little or nothing about how data about them is used – a figure that drops to just 20% for those who have low familiarity with digital technology.

Benefits and security

There are also worries about the distribution of benefits, with an even split of 31% each agreeing or disagreeing with the statement that they would be shared equally. These are accompanied by worries about security and whether organisations are transparent in how they use data, the report says.

Trust in the institutions using the data has a strong influence, with 69% naming the NHS as the most preferred actor. In addition, older people were more worried about data governance than their younger counterparts.

Attitudes to AI were affected by only 13% feeling they could offer a full explanation of the term, and that it is often seen as being scary and futuristic.

The results are based on an online survey of 4,256 adults between over last November and December, plus telephone interviews with 200 people regarded as digitally excluded.

Trustworthy environment

Edwina Dunn, interim chair of the CDEI, said: “Engaging with the public to understand their views is critical if we are to enable responsible innovation and build a trustworthy data environment.

“I urge those working in government, the wider public sector, industry and academia to read the report and stay up-to-date with the results of future waves. I hope the insights generated inform the development of policy and regulation, as well as new products and services, in the years to come.”

The CDEI said the survey will be repeated on a biannual basis, and will use the findings in its with public sector partners to develop governance mechanisms for the use of data and AI.

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