As the French make ever greater use of the digital channels available, but very often without knowing enough about them, trust issues are beginning to arise. A question of marketing or a genuine problem?

French People’s Trust in Data Security Varies according to Type of Website

While the number of people using digital services in all sectors in France keeps on increasing –e.g. 88% of households using online banking channels in 2013, up from 80% in 2009; and 90% making e-commerce purchases this year, compared with 85% in 2009 – overall trust in these sites and services has slipped. This emerges from the CDC-ACSEL 2013 ‘Barometer’ survey on French people’s trust in digital channels, carried out among 772 Internet users by digital think tank IDATE on behalf of French digital economy association ACSEL and public service financial institution CDC. The survey identifies five categories of person according to their attitudes to digital tools: trusting (36%); reluctant (17%); technophiles (15%), who have really taken on board the digital approach; followers (16%), who have a positive image of online services but use them very little; and pragmatists (16%), who are big users in spite of having considerable misgivings.  People’s trust in the Internet varies, depending on the particular website in question. It also appears that social networks are no longer flavour of the month among French people.

“Before, we used to go on to the Internet, now we’re in it.” – Hervé Lebec

The survey results show that the websites most trusted by the French are online bank sites, which received the thumbs-up from 76% of those polled. In second place come governmental (e-administration) sites, trusted by 69%, followed by e-commerce platforms (53%) and social networks (32%). In fact social platforms have seen very little growth over the past couple of years, just 77% of Internet users being members of these networks, versus 75% who were members in 2011. This appears to be due to a growing wariness as regards personal data, with 92% saying it is important to them not to have their personal details recorded online, while 75% refuse to be geolocalised. This anxiety is so widespread that 16% of French social networks users profile themselves under a pseudonym, while 47% admit to deliberately posting false information online. Asked by L’Atelier to explain what had led to this erosion of trust in digital among the French, Hervé Lebec, who co-authored the report, underlined that “there’s no main reason. In fact people don’t realise that they are lacking in trust until you ask them the question and it’s only then that the penny drops,” adding: “They then tell you that it’s the risks that are making them more and more cautious.”

Finding the right balance

The risks mentioned by those surveyed vary from sector to sector.  As regards government sites, the main concern is over improper use of data, mentioned by 40% of respondents, while for online banking 67% of those polled say they fear a piracy attack on their account. In the e-commerce field, 38% of respondents say they are wary of having their personal details used for advertising purposes.  Lastly, with regard to social networks, 52% are worried about strangers getting hold of their private information.  Solutions need to be put in place to counter such fears. One would be to create a standards framework to promote trust in the online world – an official committee tasked to bring the various different initiatives together and draw up a ‘Digital Confidence Charter’ to protect the interests of all concerned – digital services firms, solutions providers and the public authorities, as well as users. Hervé Lebec argues that “what we need is to create a labelling system and ensure greater transparency to promote better understanding of the tools, better use of digital channels and of the data.”  However, quite a lot of work still needs to be done in this area because, he points out, “the people who are talking to each other about the need for trust in digital are actually not the main users of these technologies. There’s definitely a generation gap here”.

By Kathleen Comte