New RSS research finds ‘data trust deficit’, with lessons for policymakers

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A new survey by Ipsos MORI for the Royal Statistical Society suggests that there is a general 'data trust deficit', and that public support for sharing personal data depends very much on who it is being shared with - and for what reason.

The research found that the media, along with internet, telecommunications and insurance companies, all come at the bottom of a ‘trust in data’ league table. Only four to seven per cent say they have a high level of trust in these organisations to use data appropriately, compared with 36% trusting the NHS and 41% trusting their GP. However, nearly all institutions suffer a ‘trust in data deficit’, whereby trust in them to use data appropriately is lower than trust in that institution generally.

Broadly, the poll found more support for data sharing across government than not sharing data at all, if it is ‘for the benefit of services and me’ and provided there are safeguards in place. The research also found low opposition (17%) to the government sharing anonymised data for public-funded research in universities and similar organisations; around half said they would either ‘tend to support’ (38%) or ‘strongly support’ (12%) this.  

Other data recipients and uses, however, attracted a high level of suspicion. Four in ten of those polled said they would ‘tend to oppose’ (24%) or ‘strongly oppose’ (17%) the government sharing anonymised data with companies in order to ‘help improve their products and services, or develop new services’. Only a quarter said they would ‘tend to support’ (22%) or ‘strongly support’ (5%) this.

Health records being sold to private healthcare companies to make money for government prompted the greatest opposition (84%). However if records were instead ‘shared with private healthcare companies to develop more effective treatments’, opposition was far lower, at 45%. 

Hetan Shah, executive director of the Royal Statistical Society said, ‘Our research shows a “data trust deficit”. In this data rich world, companies and government have to earn citizens’ trust in how they manage and use data - and those that get it wrong will pay the price.'

‘In particular, there may be big benefits to be had from data sharing within government, but to get a public mandate policymakers must be clear about the benefits and show how they will safeguard individual privacy.’

The findings from this research will be discussed at panel events being held at both the Conservative and Labour party conferences, with MPs including Sarah Wollaston, Chi Onwurah and Bernard Jenkin taking part. For more details about the RSS/Ipsos MORI party conference programme, see the StatsLife calendar for the Conservative and Labour events respectively.

The results are based on two surveys, both from an online quota survey of GB adults aged 16-75. Fieldwork for most questions consisted of 2,019 interviews between 23 and 25 June. One question was placed on a later online omnibus of 1,000 GB adults between 15 to 18 July. To cut down on survey length, some questions were asked in smaller samples, of no fewer than 505. The data has been weighted by age, gender, region, social grade, working status, main shopper. For base numbers please consult the slides below.

The research presentation is available to download here (PDF). The Royal Statistical Society has provided a brief analysis of the research findings (PDF). Data tables are also available as an Excel file.

UPDATE 24/07/14: National press have picked up on the research with coverage in the Telegraph, the FT and Pulse. Coverage on Twitter has also been summarised in this Storify document.

Ipsos MORI Data privacy Data sharing