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Three in four Britons are worried about companies collecting information about them

King's College London / Ipsos MORI Research for Personalisation vs. Privacy event

Published:11 February 2014
Fieldwork:1 - 15 October 2013
Keywords:Global Trends Survey, Online security, Privacy, Technology
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Three in four Britons are worried about companies collecting information about them – and three quarters think a further loss of privacy is inevitable

Britain in mid-table in international league of privacy concerns

King's College London / Ipsos MORIA major new international online study on privacy and personalisation from Ipsos MORI shows that three in five Britons (62%) would rather keep their online activities private, even if that means they lose out on personalised services and relevant recommendations. This puts us in a similar position to the United States, while countries such as France, Germany, Australia and Sweden are even less likely to say they would trade their privacy for personalised services. Online consumers in emerging nations, though (such as Brazil, India, China and Russia) are more attracted by the benefits of personalisation.

This is underpinned by a general concern about the way information collected online is being used by companies and governments. Seven in ten (68%) of Britons are concerned about the way information is collected about them by the government, and even more – 76% - are worried about companies. We see the same pattern in terms of trust: from a range of organisations, public sector healthcare providers are most trusted to use people’s information in the right way (41%), followed by banks (34%), governments and supermarkets (both 31%). At the other end of the scale, though, are other organisations such as media companies (just 11% trust) and social media sites (12%), with foreign governments right at the bottom on 10%. Trust in all three of these is lower in Britain than the average across the 20 countries surveyed.

When it comes to surveillance technologies, Britons make a distinction between crime and terrorism – at least as far as other people’s privacy is concerned. Around four in ten say it would be completely unacceptable for the government to monitor emails, text messages, phone calls, or internet activity without consent to combat crime – whether their own or other people’s. However, while Britons are just as likely to rule out monitoring their own communications to combat terrorism, they seem less bothered if the government were to do that to other people, with only 18% seeing this as completely unacceptable. However, in either case Britons are more comfortable with government monitoring communications without consent than the global average.

Despite all this genuinely-held concern there is less sign that we are really changing our behaviour about it – perhaps because 77% think it is inevitable that we will lose some privacy in the future because of new technology. For example:

  • two in three (67%) say they often don’t bother reading terms and conditions on a website before accepting them
  • only a quarter (23%) have changed the default settings on their computer or browser to increase their privacy
  • and only a third (34%) would be willing to pay extra for a service to keep details private – 19th out of the 20 countries asked

People are however much more likely to see the benefit of companies giving them access to the data held on them: seven in ten (71%) say they would like to have access to the data that companies hold about them, to help me make better decisions, for example on how they spend their money.

Bobby Duffy, Managing Director of the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute, said:

“The enormous amount of data and information that’s collected about us in just about all areas of our lives now provides incredible opportunities – but also makes a large majority of people uneasy. How we balance the real benefits these data bring with equally real concerns is a key challenge now and for the coming years - and it’s clear from this major international survey that there will be no one approach that will work for everyone.

“Government and companies will need to be flexible and sensitive to very different levels of concern between individuals and across countries - and will have to communicate very carefully. Knowledge of the real nature of what’s known about us and how it’s used is very low – and while more transparency and simple messages are key, these may actually make more people worried than they currently are.”

Technical notes

  • These are the findings of the Global Trends Survey, an Ipsos survey conducted between October 1st and October 15th.
  • The survey was conducted in 20 countries around the world via the Ipsos Online Panel system. The countries reporting herein are Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United States of America.
  • For the results of the survey presented herein, an international sample of 16,167 adults aged 18-64 in the US and Canada, and age 16-64 in all other countries, were interviewed. Approximately 1000+ individuals participated on a country by country basis via the Ipsos Online Panel with the exception of Argentina, Belgium, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden and Turkey, where each have a sample approximately 500+.
  • Weighting was then employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the adult population according to the most recent country Census data, and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. A survey with an unweighted probability sample of this size and a 100% response rate would have an estimated margin of error of +/-3.1 percentage points for a sample of 1,000 and an estimated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20 per country of what the results would have been had the entire population of adults in that country had been polled. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.


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Bobby Duffy
Bobby Duffy

Managing Director, Social Research Institute

Gideon Skinner
Gideon Skinner

Head of Political Research