The relationship between global tech companies and consumers took a turn for the worse in 2013 in light of revelations around the US government’s surveillance program, PRISM.
Once the dust settled, the aftermath could best be described as uncomfortable: knowing that organisations may have given federal agents the green light to sift through your private communications left a sore spot, and companies including Apple and Yahoo were moved to ‘fess up on how many times they had supplied data upon demand.
So how have events over the past 12 months impacted levels of trust between UK consumers and organisations?
Not very positively, according to a research report by Japan-based ICT giant Fujitsu, which found that almost a third (29%) of 3,000 consumers are less trusting than they were one year ago.
Other results from the report don’t make for pretty reading – if you’re in the social media domain. Almost a third of respondents (31%) indicated ‘zero trust’ in social media companies abilities to safeguard data, and just 9% of consumers have any faith in any organisation to do the same.
To dig deeper into the issue of consumer trust, data and tech brands, we spoke to David Robinson, Chief Security Officer at Fujitsu UK and Ireland.
TechRadar Pro: Why has consumer trust in organizations declined in the last few years?
David Robinson: Data is rapidly becoming one of the defining themes of the decade. It is also becoming one of the most divisive. While the frenzy around data may be particularly pronounced at the moment, our fervour for it is not a new phenomenon.
Our relationship with the data we create has always been fragile, and that fragility has only increased in the digital era. Part of the issue relates to the ever-expanding volume of data.
Google’s Eric Schmidt made headlines in 2010 with his assertion that humanity now creates more information in a two-day period than it did in the entirety of the two millennia before.
An EMC-sponsored study from the following year found that we would need a mountain of iPads, 25 times taller than Mount Fuji, in order to store the 1.8 zettabytes of information generated in 2011.
Those data mountains are made from the tiniest pieces of gravel. From social media to the Internet of Things, we generate data points at almost every moment of our waking lives.
Even previously innocuous activities – from swiping a railcard to changing a TV channel – create a digital footprint that can be used to analyse, predict and even act upon our behaviour.
Matter of trust
TRP: What sector has the least amount of consumer trust?
DR: Social networks is the sector that consumers have the least amount of trust in. Only 15% of consumers say today that they trust the sector with their data.
From the earliest days of social networking, consumers have had an intense – and often confused – relationship with the businesses that give them the platforms to connect with their friends and family.
On the one hand, we cherish the immediacy of the information we receive as a result; on the other, we ponder the implications of uploading our whole lives for all the world to see.
Part of the problem is inevitably related to the nature of the information we entrust into their care. There are few other businesses on earth with whom we share so much of our daily lives; from our friends to our passions, our location to our livelihoods. It is all there and, somewhere in our minds, the deep-seated concern that it is there to be taken, too.
Because of that, data security carries an almost impossible level of significance for anyone who uses these channels.
TRP: And it can have disastrous effect on any business that falls short…
DR: While eyebrows might be raised should a utility let slip the details of an energy bill, and a torrent of complaints greet any retailer that loses a customer’s payment details, woe betide the business that loses every aspect of a customer’s life – from their private messages to their address.
In many ways, these businesses are facing an impossible burden. The value they provide is in the loyalty they engender – but therein lies the problem, too.
By bottling the whole of a user’s life in one place, they offer ultimate convenience alongside untold risk. The key – now and always – is to demonstrate to users that the second of those issues is one that they need never even consider.
Coming just above this were telecoms/media, utilities and local government – who all have a trust level of less than a quarter (24%).
TRP: What is to blame for the lack of trust?
DR: Media coverage of issues relating to data security and privacy also seems to be responsible for dwindling trust.
21% noted that Edward Snowden’s revelations around the USA’s National Security Agency PRISM programme – allowing it to tap into consumer communications on and offline – had influenced their thinking, with 19% noting that they had seen an incident of personal data theft or loss reported on in the news.
These factors combined seem to point to an overall heightened awareness of security, with 48% noting that they are generally more conscious of data issues.
This erosion of trust appears to be felt most acutely by the older generation. Those aged 55 and above were much more likely (40%) to suggest they were less trusting of organisations to safeguard their information. Just 1% of this group say that their faith in those parties has increased.
Conversely, teenagers and those in their early 20s are the most likely to be reassured that their data is in safe hands.
18-24 year-olds are twice as likely (16%) to say that their confidence in organisations to protect their privacy has increased, and are less likely than any other group (24%) to say that it has decreased.
"Trust" as a whole was a major issue. 65% noted that they had concerns about whether the Government would use their data securely, matched closely by 69% who said the same of any organisation that holds their data.
Should consumers start thinking about trading their data in order to receive more relevant marketing?
As with any customer experience, proof is a great confidence builder.
Just as shoppers will choose brands based on past experiences of quality or value, one of the major challenges for organisations seems to be in proving that they can deliver on the data dream – that they can offer a personalised experience that consumers care about. Our research suggests that this is easier said than done.
While customers should already be seeing the benefit of data collection, one example is in retail where a staggering 35% of consumers receive inaccurate communications from their retailers.
TRP: Who should be accountable for when there is a data disaster?
DR: We’re all responsible for keeping our data secure. Having your personal data stolen is like being mugged for your handbag. Nowadays we keep as much information, if not more, in our online wallet as we do in our purse.
Our recent Data Research Report showed that 68% of consumers considered themselves responsible for keeping their data secure. The research report also highlighted a lack of consumer trust in organisations, with only 9% stating that they believed organisations were doing enough to secure their data.
However, we are still seeing numerous incidents where malware which infects consumer computers, making them more vulnerable to attack than ever before. A sophisticated criminal industry, designed solely to access consumer data, has emerged online continues and is starting to dominate our lives.
The effort for both consumers and organisations alike to beat this is industrial, as companies are no longer fighting against individuals but smart technologies which are evolving as quickly as online protection tools.
Organisations need to ensure consumers are educated continually on the importance of online security, giving them easier, but more secure ways to protect themselves – whether that be through mobile alerts, or biometric technology.