Who do we trust with our personal data?

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The public would be concerned if private companies, rather than public services, held their personal information, and there is widespread misunderstanding of how data is currently used.  These findings come out of a comprehensive new poll conducted by Ipsos MORI for think tank 2020 Public Services Trust. They form part of an in-depth study by the 2020 Public Services Trust looking at the opportunities technology can create for public service reform, which is due to publish in spring 2010.

Despite recent data security scandals, and despite trust in government and politicians being at historic lows, the public is far happier entrusting its personal data to public services than to private companies or charities.  Asked who they would trust most with information that might identify them personally, 65 percent chose public services, in comparison with six percent expressing a preference for private companies, and five percent for charities.  The suggestion that individuals' NHS records might be held by private companies such as Goggle was met with concern amongst 76 percent of people surveyed.   

The public believe that public services already have and share significant amounts of their personal or household information.  81% think that public services hold "a great", or "fair amount" of their personal data.  Two thirds think that public services share this data with other public services. 

The public is generally uneasy about extending data sharing across public services, but its views are nuanced. In most situations a majority of the public feel that data sharing between public services should only take place with their prior consent, even when it is suggested that they might benefit from better join-up between services.  However, where the public believe that data sharing could prevent fraud or other crime, it is more prepared to drop the requirement for consent.  For example, 52 percent think that it should be possible for local education authorities to pass details of truanting children to the police so they know who is at risk of drifting into crime.

As well as exploring where personal data should be held and how it might be shared, the poll explores whether information technology could actually increase citizens' control over the services they access. The Government has announced its commitment to digitalising public services and increasing access to public data, but 44 percent of people never access inforamtion on servcies online; and only eight percent say that they would post feedback about local services online.  It seems clear that Government will need to continue to invest in digital inclusion and markedly enhance the range and quality of online services and inforamtion if it is to achieve its aims.

Ben Lucas, Director of the 2020 Public Services Trust, said:

"There is consensus about the need to move towards modern, online public services.  However, the polling shows widespread misunderstanding about where we are today.  The public is confused about who currently handles its personal data, and it overestimates how widely its data is shared.  This confusion hampers progressive reform."

Charlotte Alldritt, Project Director of the Public Technology Project and Researcher at the 2020 Public Services Trust, said:

"Too much of the public debate about data sharing and transparency across public services has been framed in black and white terms of pro or against.  If we are to enjoy the benefits that technology could bring, the public needs to be engaged in a detailed conversation about what they expect from different services, the nature of the data that should be held, and the circumstances in which it should be shared, either on an identifiable or anonymised basis."


Notes to Editor

  • Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,016 adults in Great Britain aged 16+ between 14th - 20th August 2009.
  • 2020 Public Services Trust, Public Technology Research Project - our underlying assumption is that technology can be powerful tool to improving private and product sector productivity.  Whilst in the private realm technology is widespread and new innovations are changing the ways we live and work all the time, public services are far behind in the UK.  Our research project considers why this is the case and seeks to make a series of policy recommendations to improve this situation.  The primary and secondary research will consider both the opportunities technology can create for public service reform and its associated risks (including data sharing, privacy, institutional risk aversion, the role of government/private sector and digital inclusion).
  • The Public Technology project is kindly supported by Dr Foster Intelligence and Microsoft, and is overseen by an advisory group drawn from a range of services and disciplines.
  • Data on public trust in politicians and selected public service professionals can be found in Ipsos MORI, ‘Trust in Professions 2009' (Royal College of Physicians, September 2009).
  • Identifiable data is data that could identify an individual personally.  Anonymised data has identifying elements stripped away, and can be particularly helpful in analysing patterns of service use. 

2020 Public Services Trust & the Commission on 2020 Public Services

  • The 2020 Public Services Trust is a registered charity which exists to develop a deeper understanding of the challenges facing UK public services over the medium term.  It has launched an independent and cross-party Commission on 2020 Public Services, chaired by Sir Andrew Foster, which aims to lay the basis for a new post-Beveridge public service settlement. 
  • The Commission on 2020 Public Services will release its final report in the summer of 2010 outlining a new settlement for public services.

Media Enquiries

For media enquiries please contact:

Ashish Prashar
Stakeholder & Communications Manager
+44 (0)7775 501 839

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