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Consumers worried about how much personal information they share online; survey reveals need for more education and transparency

March 2018 by ForgeRock

A new survey into consumer attitudes to digital identity has revealed that a majority of consumers in the US, UK, Germany and France are concerned about how much personal data they have shared online and know little or nothing about their rights regarding their own data.

Consumers don’t know how much of their digital identity is shared online

The survey, conducted by ComRes on behalf of digital identity management expert ForgeRock, found that more than half (53%) of the 8,434 consumers polled worry about how much personal data they have shared online. A third of parents (30%) are worried about how much information they have shared online about their children.

The research also reveals a lack of awareness about how much information is available online – 47% of consumers say they do not feel they know how much data is available about them online – and suggests many underestimate how much personal data has been shared online:
• 76% of adults surveyed say that they use the internet to access products and services and make purchases - but only 31% say that they have shared their debit or credit card details online
• Less than half of consumers (48%) think that Facebook holds information on whether or not users have children
• Just 21% of consumers think Twitter has access to data on users’ political affiliations
• Less than a third (32%) of consumers believe that Instagram has access to location data on its users
• 20% of consumers do not believe that Facebook has access to any personal data about its users

Strong resistance to brands sharing consumer data

Consumers are also concerned about having their data shared with third parties. Only one in three (33%) say they would be likely to share personal data in order to get a more personalized service, with over half (51%) saying they would not be comfortable for their personal information to be shared with a third party under any circumstances. Just 15% say that they would be likely to sell personal data to an organization.

Eve Maler, Vice President of Innovation & Emerging Technology in ForgeRock’s Office of the CTO, commented: “Our survey suggests that many consumers are concerned about how much of their digital identities have been shared online, and how that information might be used by businesses. Given a choice, the majority would prefer to share less. This should be a concern for businesses, since many brands rely on data from consumers to drive revenues and inform business decisions. Organizations need to take notice of these concerns and focus on building trust and brand loyalty by giving consumers greater visibility and control over how their data is being collected, managed and shared.”

Businesses benefit from data sharing – so they are held responsible for it

Consumers also tend to feel that their personal data is mainly used to benefit businesses rather than themselves: 41% of those surveyed believe that the data they share online is used to mainly or only benefit the organization holding it, compared to just 17% who think that it is mainly or only used to benefit consumers.

As a result, businesses are also deemed to be responsible for safeguarding customer data. Only 9% of consumers believe that an individual is primarily responsible for protecting their own data; 57% say that it is primarily the responsibility of the business that holds the data. Just 14% of consumers would pay anything to retrieve personal data that was stolen to ensure it was not sold or given to third party organisations.

Consumers are also clear that there would be consequences for any company sharing their data without their consent:

• 56% of consumers would stop using the company’s services completely if it shared data without their permission
• 49% would remove or delete all the data held on them by that company
• 46% would advise their family and friends against using the company
• 32% would take legal action
• 27% would contact the police and 26% would request financial compensation

When it comes to data, banks are more trusted than social networks

Banks and credit card companies were most likely to be seen as trusted holders of personal data, with 79% consumers reporting that they trusted these organizations to store and use personal data responsibly. Amazon also performed well with three quarters (74%) of consumers saying they trust the e-commerce giant to manage personal data.

Social media platforms performed less well, with just 58% saying that they trust social networks to treat personal data in a responsible manner on average.

There is a clear correlation between who consumers trust with their data and how in control they feel: Those who share data with Amazon (62%), banks and credit card companies (61%) and payment apps (60%) and utility companies (60%) are most likely to feel in control of the information they share with those organizations.. In comparison, just 48% of consumers said they felt in control of the data that is shared with social media platforms.

Eve Maler: “It’s clear that consumers do now understand that ‘if you’re not the customer, then you’re the product.’ With banks and online retailers, consumers have a clear transactional relationship. They are consuming goods or services so they know they are valued as a customer. In contrast, social media companies offer consumers experiences without any financial payment – instead they pay in data. If companies were more transparent about how their business models rely on purchases, attention or data, consumers would have a much stronger understanding of what their privacy risks are and could tailor their behaviors and trust levels accordingly.”

Consumers don’t know their rights around online data-sharing

Although many consumers are concerned about how their data is managed and shared, only a few know how they can protect and manage their personal information:

• Just a third (35%) of consumers know how to remove personal data they have shared online
• Over half (57%) of consumers say they know little or nothing about their rights regarding personal data shared online
• Less than a third (31%) know who would be liable if their personal data is hacked or stolen

In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect this year, bringing with it new rights for consumers regarding how data is stored and shared. However, two thirds (65%) of consumers say they have never heard of or know nothing about the legislation.

Eve Maler: “Our research shows there is a real need for more education about how personal data is managed and shared online. New regulations such as the EU’s GDPR are intended to put the public back in the driving seat when it comes to their data, but it is clear that consumers are not aware of their rights and many do not feel in control of their digital identities. Industry and government need to come together to raise awareness around how consumer data is used and the rights and protections that are in place. Failure to do so will ultimately result in consumers losing trust in the brands they deal with online, damaging both revenues and reputations.”

About the research
The research, commissioned by digital identity company ForgeRock and carried out by ComRes Global, surveyed 8,434 consumers in the US, UK, Germany and France online between 3rd and 12th of January 2018about their digital identities and the personal information they have shared online. Data were weighted to be representative of all adults from each country by age, gender and region. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full data tables can be found at

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