Living With Data survey findings: context and prior awareness matter in public concern about data uses

Home > Living With Data survey findings: context and prior awareness matter in public concern about data uses

5 Jul 2021 NewsPublication

Living With Data researchers have found that the public is concerned about certain data uses, and that the context of data uses and prior awareness of them influence how concerned people are. In our survey of people’s attitudes to data uses carried out at the end of 2020, we found:

  • Public concern about certain data uses remains high, when compared with other, everyday concerns. Data uses that concern people include, for example, data being used in unfair ways and commercial companies profiting from personal data. But concern about one data use is low: personal data being used to manage Covid-19. 
  • 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. 
  • 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. 

The researchers conclude that data practitioners and policy-makers need to consider not engaging in data practices that consistently concern the public, for example sharing data originally intended for health or other pro-social purposes in ways which enable commercial companies to profit. 

They say that clear communication about existing and possible future data uses is needed, especially where such uses go beyond what was originally intended. ‘The public – especially those who are negatively affected by data uses – should be consulted about data uses and how they need to change, on a case-by-case basis’’ said Professor Kennedy. 

One challenging finding from the survey is that some trust issues go beyond the type of data use. Instead they result from attitudes to organisations or sectors more generally. To address data trust issues, fundamental changes that go beyond data uses and practices are needed. 

‘In short, put together, our findings tell us that change is needed’, concludes Professor Kennedy.

You can access the full report, a short summary, and our original survey questions here.