The Open Data Institute conducted two surveys in recent months, canvassing the opinions of European nationals from five countries on their attitudes to data. When presented with a variety of statements around the usefulness of data, the phrase that the majority of respondents from all five participating countries agreed with was ‘data is useful when it helps keep me safe.’ The percentage of people that agreed with this statement from each country was 38% in France, 47% in Germany, 51% in the Netherlands, 52% in Belgium and 53% in the UK.
In contrast, for all the nationalities, the phrase ‘data is useful when companies use it to drive economic growth and create jobs’ resonated with the lowest percentage of people. Just 17% of Germans, 18% of Dutch, 19% of French, 23% of Belgians and 30% of British people agreed with that statement.
"What being safe means is a more detailed question."
Peter Wells, head of policy at the ODI said that this result tells us something about how applicable data is to people’s everyday lives. He said: “That second statement doesn’t really feel relevant to people, to their daily lived experience, whereas keeping safe feels more relevant to me.” Wells also mentioned that the statement regarding safety is vague and open to interpretation. The respondent could have understood it to mean being kept safe from terrorism or being kept safe from Facebook. He said: “What being safe means and who we want to be kept safe from, is a more detailed question.”
To the statement ‘data is useful when it helps me do things more quickly and easily’ 26% of French, 29% of Dutch, 31% of German, 33% of Belgian and 34% of British respondents agreed. This phrase is suggestive of AI assistants and other forms of automation that can make people more efficient. Wells said: “Often you will get people from the data, digital and technology world say ‘consumers want convenience.’ When asked, consumers say something quite different.
"People say one thing but actually do something else."
The head of policy also noted that they way people respond to survey questions might not precisely line up with the way that they behave in real life. He said: “Often this happens, people say one thing but actually they do something else.” This poses real difficulties to researchers trying to study behaviour.” However, there are ways to look at people’s actual behaviour, for example through looking at take up of internet services. Wells also said that the ODI has done some work on data sharing in the telecoms sector in the UK. “We built some prototypes of what the service could be and then asking people, ‘Would you click on this button?’ Then you start to get closer to real human behaviour,” said Wells.
For him, the most profound and surprising insight from this set of survey results was the variations between the countries in terms of opinions as well as the clusters. He said that countries we think of as being quite culturally similar have some quite different opinions.
He gave the example of the UK and France where, when asked if they trust their data with local government, 41% of British respondents said they would compared to 19% of the French people surveyed. Wells said: “There’s some quite significant variations and we’re seeing France and Germany clustered together, differently to Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK.”
He said this information is particularly pertinent to businesses looking to export their goods or services. They would be able to see which nations and markets are most amenable to the type of service they are offering. According to Wells, this will be particularly useful for government trade strategy after Brexit. “Often there can be a mistake of thinking everything should be global but different countries have different social contracts – my expectations of society and society’s expectations of me,” he said.
The two surveys commissioned by the Open Data Institute questioned the British respondents in November 2017 and canvassed the opinions of the continental European nationals in March and April 2018.
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