A report – ‘Making digital default: Understanding citizen attitudes’ – published yesterday by Deloitte (based on polling by YouGov) presents some concerning findings on public trust in government over data sharing. The authors report that:
- just 17% of respondents thought data sharing would lead to personalised services
- just 18% of respondents thought data sharing would help improve public services
- just 20% of respondents thought data sharing would save taxpayers’ money
But perhaps most concerning, a third of respondents thought data sharing would lead to their data being misused by government.
Source: Deloitte (2014) Making digital default
As is commonly found in public engagement on data collection and use, older and less affluent groups are particularly sceptical of the benefits of data sharing and of the ability of the government to keep their data secure.
It’s clear that significant work is needed by government to build public trust around the use of personal data. While other research has shown that when presented with a specific public good individuals are generally content for their data to be shared, the default position of the public is currently one of concern and scepticism.
See http://datasharing.org.uk/2014/03/14/public-views-on-data/ for another recent example of research into public views on personal data collection and use.
During this open policy process we’ll be exploring the use of citizens’ personal data by government, so it should go without saying that we need to understand what citizens themselves think. For what purposes do people support data sharing, and under what conditions? Where do the public see benefits, and where do they have concerns? What trade-offs are people willing to make, with what considerations? Who do citizens trust to use their data, who do they distrust, and why?
There’s already a fair amount of evidence available that goes some way to answering these questions. Sciencewise will be publishing a review of this shortly – and I’ve listed a number of the key reports at the end of this post.
Today, Ipsos MORI contributed two new reports to the pool. I’ve not had an opportunity to read them in depth yet, but here are a few of the key findings I’ve picked out from a quick skim.
Public Attitudes to Science 2014
The Public Attitudes to Science 2014 report has a section devoted to Big Data (see page 141).
The key findings of the report on public attitudes to Big Data are that:
- ‘While people do appear to have concerns about how their data are currently being used by different service providers, most do not act on these concerns and tend to stick with the services they are already signed up to.
- Six-in-ten say they do not mind how their personal data are used as long as they are anonymised. However, among those who say this, some still oppose anonymised personal datasets being used in specific contexts, possibly overlooking that the data are anonymised, or not trusting the anonymisation process.
- People on balance oppose personal data being used for commercial gain. At the other end they largely support the use of personal data in contexts where there is a tangible public benefit, such as in medicine, transport and policing.’
Dialogue on Data: Exploring the public’s views on using administrative data for research purposes
The Dialogue on Data focuses specifically on two uses of administrative data:
- The new ESRC-funded Administrative Data Research Network (ADRN) that was set up in late 2013.
- The potential use of administrative data linking as one of the options for conducting the 2021 census (alongside an annual survey).
A few of the key findings for me, based on a very quick skim of the conclusions and recommendations are that:
- ‘The broad overall pattern was that as participants gained understanding of social research and the ADRN plans, they tended to become less concerned and more supportive. However, becoming informed enough to gain this level of understanding took at least a day of intensive discussion, which would be unrealistic to replicate on a broader scale.’
- ‘Participants did take a strong interest in the uses and outcomes of social research.’
- ‘The findings suggest that the public would be broadly happy with administrative data linking for research projects provided (i) those projects have social value, broadly defined (ii) data is de- identified, (iii) data is kept secure, and (iv) businesses are not able to access the data for profit.’
- ‘The key area where there could be public concern about the ADRN plans is around de-identification. Confidence in the process by which this happens is crucial to creating support for linking administrative data. But the dialogue shows that this process is very difficult and time-consuming to explain.’
- ‘Language will be important here; for example, participants in the dialogue used the term “anonymous” interchangeably with the technically correct term “de-identified”, as the former is more familiar to them.’
- ‘The public also need to be convinced that the security of their data (including their de-identified data) is of the utmost concern to the ADS and the ADRN. They were clear that rigorous policies and processes should be put in place to ensure this.’
These reports echo a number of common concerns and opinions found across public engagement on the collection and use of personal data (see the reports listed below), including that:
- People care about their personal data and how it’s used, but their understanding is typically quite shallow
- The security of personal data is of utmost importance to citizens
- The intent behind using personal data is critical: Its use for the public good is generally supported, but its use for commercial gain is not
- The public has a strong preference for personal data being “anonymised”, but only has a basic understanding of what this means in practice