Even more public views on data sharing

Sciencewise has just published a review I conducted of the existing evidence of public views on the collection, sharing and use of personal data by governments and companies. The full report is available via this link: http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/assets/Uploads/SocialIntelligenceBigData.pdf

For quick reference, below I have reproduced the Executive Summary of the report.

Public views on the collection, sharing and use of personal data by government and companies

Executive summary

Ever increasing amounts of data are being generated, at a faster pace and in more formats than ever before. The growing power to analyse vast and complex datasets can offer great insight into complicated issues, improving the quality of decision-making, delivery of public services, scientific research and many other areas.

Business and government are united in their belief in the potential of ‘Big Data’ to drive economic growth, scientific innovation and service efficiency. The views of the public, on the other hand, are much more varied, complex and nuanced.

This review focuses on the public’s views on the collection, sharing and use of personal data by governments and companies. Though Big Data does not necessarily involve the collection or use of personal data, where Big Data is in tension with personal data privacy, ownership and control is where it is likely to cause most concern for the public.

This review finds that:

  1. Data about who you are (i.e. personal information) is generally considered by the public to be more personal than data about what you do (i.e. behavioural data), though this distinction is likely to become increasingly spurious. Awareness of data collection and use by government and companies is quite high, but the level of understanding of what this means in practice is much lower. This suggests that individuals need to be engaged on the issue as citizens (deliberating on the conditions and safeguards), as well as consumers (agreeing or disagreeing to terms of service).
  2. When asked, the public are ostensibly opposed to any form of data use and collection by government and companies, but in practice the public consider there to be no alternative to sharing personal information with government and companies in the modern world and expect it to increase in future.
  3. Personal benefit is the strongest incentive for being in favour of the collection and use of personal data by government and companies, but the public report currently seeing little benefit from sharing their data and little confidence that they will see benefits in future. The public also identifies public goods (e.g. health research, prevention and detection of crime, and unearthing of dishonesty or fraudulent behaviour) as potential benefits of personal data use.
  4. The public is particularly concerned about losing control of their personal data, with fear that they will become a victim of fraud or identity theft, and that their data will be shared with others without their knowledge or agreement.
  5. Offering a specific personal or public benefit can significantly increase the general public’s acceptance of the collection, sharing and use of their data by government and companies, but even when a specific benefit is offered, the public remain concerned about the collection, sharing and use of particular types of personal data (e.g. bank account, savings and pension details).
  6. There is no consistent “public view” on what constitutes personal data, the benefits of sharing personal information and behavioural data, and comfort levels with different uses of data. The public can be segmented into a number of groups sitting along a continuum between pro- and anti-sharing.
  7. The public thinks that personal data should only be used by government and companies for their personal benefit. People are keen to have more control over the use of their personal data and want stronger safeguards towards its use, and there is strong support from the public for more information on how government and companies collect, share and use data.
  8. It would be beneficial to gather more evidence around how public views change over time, the effect of media attention, what public views are on specific data technologies and what factors affect how the public makes trade-offs.

The combination of high complexity, low public understanding and high public interest, mark the issue of personal data use out as one that requires much greater public deliberation.

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Tim Hughes

About Tim Hughes

Tim is Involve's incoming director, taking over from 21st January 2017. Tim has led campaigns and advocacy on open government; advised national, devolved and local governments, civil society organisations and multilateral institutions; and researched and written on topics including public participation, open government, democratic reform, civil society advocacy and public administration.

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