Businesses which want to build public trust in how they handle personal data should look no further than the National Health Service, which has emerged as the leading organisation when it comes to data ethics, according to a new study by the Open Data Institute (ODI).
Of the 2,000 adults questioned by YouGov, nearly three-fifths (59%) said they trust the NHS to be ethical in its use of their data, the only sector to score more than 50%. Meanwhile, the emergency services scored 47%, banks and building societies 42%, local government 31%, central government 30% and universities 18%.
Perhaps surprisingly, family and friends did not fare too well, being way down the list at 34%.
Opinion on the type of data collection and acceptable use varies between individuals, however. Only 13% of people are comfortable to share behavioural data in exchange for a personalised service, such as social media likes or travel patterns, but this varies from 22% in the 25 to 34 age group to 8% of those aged over 55.
A fifth of those over 55 did not want to share any of the data type listed with local authorities to receive a personalised service, compared to 8% of those aged 18 to 24.
The relationship people have with organisations makes a difference to how much they are trusted. Only 12% of 18- to 24-year-olds trust credit card companies to handle data ethically, compared with 31% of those above 55. But this was reversed when it came to universities, with 36% of 18- to 24-year-olds trusting them compared to 10% of those over 55.
Over half of people (52%) felt that if organisations only collect the necessary personal data to provide a service, that would indicate ethical use of personal data. Around a quarter felt that organisations providing information about any payments they receive for sharing personal data would be an indication of using personal data ethically. And 13% thought that ethical data use would be indicated if organisations share personal data with the UK government to improve public services, or with researchers to develop insights.
The study also exposed a divided nation in terms of how well people feel they understand data protection and GDPR; 57% said they understood it fairly or very well, while 41% said not very well or not at all.
ODI chief executive Jeni Tennison said: “The survey shows us that people quite rightly expect organisations to use personal data ethically. Organisations need to respond to their concerns and be more trustworthy in how they collect and use personal data.
"This is not only the right thing to do, it will help organisations to keep benefiting from the data they rely on and retain the trust of their customers and employees. Talking about using data ethically is not enough, organisations need to publicly demonstrate how they do this in order to build trust.”