Businesses and government must act to reduce consumer anxiety over information sharing, suggests a new report released today by the think tank Demos.

The report, commissioned by O2, is based on the most in-depth research to date on the public’s attitudes toward the sharing of information. The state of the nation study of 5,000 people found:

  • The public sees only limited benefits of sharing personal information and behavioural data – for example, despite 85 per cent of the public using store loyalty cards, only 41 per cent see the benefits of supermarket loyalty schemes.
  • The public has high levels of discomfort with sharing data – the highest level of comfort was for supermarket loyalty schemes at 27 per cent. Just 25 per cent of adults were comfortable with location based data and 23 per cent with online purchasing histories.
  • While people expect to share more data in the future, only 19 per cent expect to be happy with the amount of data they share with companies in ten years’ time, with 42 per cent expecting to feel uncomfortable. The picture was marginally better for government with 17 per cent more comfortable and 39 per cent less comfortable.

The report calls for businesses and the Government to enter a new ‘data dialogue’ with consumers: to better explain how information is collected and used, and give them more power over their data.

The research found that attitudes towards sharing change when people are given more control in choosing what data is shared, and when the benefit of sharing that data is made clear to them. Nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of consumers would be reassured if they were able to withdraw data on request, 70 per cent if they could see what personal information was being held, and 66 per cent with an online dashboard to control data.

The report argues that consumer unease on the sharing of information could have a knock-on effect on the economy. The internet economy is estimated to be worth well over £100bn in the UK. Online advertising, dependent on data-sharing, makes up a significant proportion of that, being the second biggest source of advertising revenue after TV, and constitutes a larger share of the overall advertising mix in the UK than in any other developed country.

Jamie Bartlett, author of the report, said: “Data and information sharing is the next big consumer issue. However, neither companies nor regulators can do it all for people – instead consumers must be put in the driving seat.

“The public will welcome measures to give them more control over personal information, specifically: knowing what is held about them, and being able to withdraw it if they wish.”

Ronan Dunne, O2 CEO, said: “The new services that will make Britain digital depend upon the collection and analysis of data. But increasingly people are fearful of sharing their data largely because companies and government haven’t been good at clearly explaining how they use it.

“In order for the UK to realise the potential in the use of customer data, for the benefit of consumers themselves, there needs to be a certain level of trust established and a fair value exchange realised.

“There needs to be a unified push on transparency. Otherwise there will always remain confusion and concern amongst the public about inconsistent practices and standards. Whilst we don’t have all the answers, we believe that by starting the conversation, asking the right questions and working collectively, we will be in a better place to get it right. We want others to join us in exploring ways to offer transparency and control to consumers.”

Christopher Graham, UK Information Commissioner, said: “This report illustrates a critical need for businesses and government to work together to ensure that the voice of consumer is heard within the ongoing debate around the public and their propensity to share their personal information. It marks the beginning of a crucial dialogue from which we need to establish how the consumer can be better represented and to foster a greater sense of trust and transparency.

“Only by engaging in this debate now, can policy makers and business leaders hope to establish true confidence amongst consumers when it comes to the handling of their personal data.”


The polling was conducted by Populus, who interviewed a representative sample of 5,010 adults living in Great Britain aged 18 and over online between 9th and 14th of March 2012. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults aged 18 or over. It is therefore a representative poll of the British public.

The research discovered five distinct ‘types’, who are defined by very different attitudes to personal information and data-sharing:

  • Non-sharers (30 per cent of the population): notable for their caution around technology and for being privacy-oriented.
  • Sceptics (22 per cent): unfamiliar with online services and cynical about business and government’s intentions, but do understand benefits of data-sharing when explained.
  • Pragmatists (20 per cent): more interested in the service itself than privacy, but that is dependent on their trusting the institution that is handling their data.
  • Value-hunters (19 per cent): have a clear understanding of the value of their data, and are very keen to share.
  • Enthusiastic sharers (8 per cent): very amenable to sharing their information, and do not consider much of it to be ‘personal’.

The Data Dialogue by Jamie Bartlett is published by Demos on Friday 14 September, and will be available to download for free at

A condensed version of the results of the survey can be found here

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