Living With Data survey results

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Living With Data: knowledge, experiences and perceptions of data practices carried out a survey in late 2020 of people’s attitudes to data uses. We used the web survey platform Qualtrics to recruit and administer the survey to 2000 adults in the UK. The sample was nationally-representative, with additional recruitment (or ‘boosts’) of people born outside the UK, LGBTQ+ people, and people in receipt of Universal Credit, to ensure their voices could be heard in our research.

The survey consisted of seven parts, in which we asked about: personal characteristics; internet usage; awareness of data uses; general attitudes to data uses; trust in institutions’ data uses; attitudes to specific public sector data uses in the BBC, DWP and NHS; and concerns about data uses as they compare with other concerns.

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Our key findings are:

  1. Public concern about certain data uses remains high. Survey respondents are highly concerned about particular aspects of data use and data uses in particular contexts. High levels of concern have also been identified in previous research. This consistent finding sends a strong message to data policy-makers and practitioners about public dissatisfaction with existing data uses.  
  2. Concern about some data uses is high when compared with other, everyday concerns. Data uses that concern people include: data being used in unfair ways; commercial companies profiting from personal data; organisations tracking when, where and how people log on; and automated technologies being used to try to change people’s behaviours. But concern about one data use is low: personal data being used to manage Covid-19.
  3. Context is a defining factor when it comes to public attitudes to data uses. Data uses in some contexts are more concerning than others. There are also differences in attitudes depending on the type of data use. It is therefore not helpful to talk about public attitudes to data uses out of context.
  4. People want to know more about data uses, but the people who know most about them are the most concerned. People who are more knowledgeable about data uses are more likely to have negative attitudes towards them. People also want information about what happens to their data – in its absence, they often imagine the worst. Put together, these findings tell us that change is needed.