Internet users in the UK are apparently far more concerned about the way their personal data is being used by commercial businesses than about outright theft of online information or even State surveillance.

UK Internet Users Increasingly Concerned about Commercial Use of Personal Data

Fully 89% of British Internet users say they worry about data privacy online. This figure is set out prominently at the beginning of a report just published by TRUSTe, a British data privacy consultancy, on the basis of a survey carried out in December by Ipsos MORI.  While just over 2,000 people were polled for the report, it nevertheless provides some extremely valuable insights, coming as it does not long after the media furore over government surveillance programmes. In fact the survey indicates that these government actions are not the main cause of people’s mistrust. They are far more concerned about how commercial companies are using their data. However, the report also points out that online consumers believe they are getting better at safeguarding their own privacy.

From mistrust to worries

Some 16% of the survey respondents stated that, whatever the time or situation, they always worry about their privacy online. Putting this data into a historical perspective, there has been a moderate but constant rise in such concern over the last three years in the UK. Some 63% of those polled for the 2012 TRUSTe report said they trusted businesses with their personal information online, a figure which had fallen to 57% by 2013 and has slipped to 55% in this latest survey. And it is precisely the commercial use of people’s data that seems to be the key issue. Asked to give specific reasons why their concern over online privacy had increased, 60% of the 2,011 respondents cited “businesses sharing my personal information with other companies″. Similarly, 54% said that a major reason for concern was “companies tracking my online behaviour to target me with ads and content.” By contrast, only 20% said they were worried about government surveillance activities.

More individual responses

This attitude sea-change can also be observed in consumer habits. When it comes to marketing content, 91% of the British Internet users polled stated that they were less likely to click on online advertisements since they did not feel their data was being protected. In fact privacy concerns could be having a real impact on business, as 78% said they would avoid using apps which they thought would not protect their privacy, while 64% said they were less likely to enable location tracking on their smartphones. This behaviour signals a change in the way Internet users in the UK are responding to their increasing concern. They seem to be getting more clued-up and more confident in terms of taking action, with 66% feeling that they are now more effective at finding ways to manage their own online privacy.

By Quentin Capelle