NHS and government have highest levels of public trust on use of personal data, ICO finds

Written by Sam Trendall on 11 September 2018 in News
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Research shows public-sector entities are far more trusted than commercial counterparts

The government, the police, and the NHS enjoy the highest levels of public trust in their storage and use of personal data, annual research from the Information Commissioner’s Office has found.

An annual study from the ICO shows that 34% of the public generally have a high level of trust and confidence in the organisations that store and use their personal data. This represents a marked increase on the 21% that reported strong trust a year ago.

Some 37% of the public have low levels of trust and confidence in those that process their data – a figure that has barely changed from the 38% that did so in 2017.

But public-sector organisations enjoy far greater amounts of confidence than commercial entities. GPs and the wider NHS are the most trusted organisations, with 65% of the public having a high level of trust in their processing of personal information, and just 12% reporting low trust.


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The police, with 54% high and 18% low trust, was next on the list, ahead of central government, with respective figures of 51% and 20%.

Some 42% of UK citizens have a high level of confidence in the way local government stores and uses their data – just below financial services, which is trusted by 46% of people.

Social messaging platforms have by far the worst levels of trust, the ICO research indicates. Three in five people have little confidence in how their data is stored and used by social-media firms, with just 15% having a high amount of trust.

Telecoms and utilities firms are trusted by 28% of people, slightly behind online retailers on 33%.

Only 18% of people said they have a good understanding of how their data is used by organisations, with a quarter of respondents indicating that they know little or nothing about what is done with their personal information. The majority – 55% - said that they have some familiarity with how their data is used, but not a comprehensive understanding of all aspects.

A total of 57% of the UK public does not believe that current laws and regulations provide sufficient data protection. One in three believe current legislation does protect personal data, and 10% said they did not know.

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham said: “Across the world people have woken up to the importance of personal data and how it’s used. Personal data has become the currency by which society does business, but advances in technology should not mean organisations racing ahead of people’s rights. Individuals should be the ones in control and organisations must demonstrate their accountability to the public.”

She added: “It’s certainly positive news that more people now trust organisations with their data and the GDPR and the new Data Protection Act 2018 will have played a part in this. Many businesses, charities, and public bodies have actively taken the time to explain the new rules and have actively taken on board new obligations to protect personal data. However, there is still a long way to go and organisations need to realise that, unless they are trusted to properly look after people’s personal data, they will fail to realise its potential benefits to their business or the wider economy.”

More than 2,000 took part in the ICO study, with online research conducted in July.

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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