Consumers increasingly skeptical that their data is being protected, survey finds

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Study findings suggest that recent breaches have eroded confidence

Past studies that have shown consumers take their online security and privacy too lightly may be a bit out of date.

A new survey by Ketchum, a communications consulting company, shows consumers are increasingly concerned about security, and those concerns are driving behavior. More than half of those in the survey say they worried more about data breaches in the last 12 months, and 49 percent say they feel less confident about the privacy of their personal data.

The survey found that nearly half of respondents are skeptical of brands’ promises to keep their data safe, and 49 percent said they don't believe companies when they say data breach issues are resolved.

The study follows a number of privacy issues reported by Facebook, starting with the 2018 revelation that a political marketing firm gained unauthorized use to user data. Within the last two years, Equifax has reported the largest data breach in history and Capital One has reported the second-largest.

A report by Forbes on Monday is not likely to bolster confidence. The publication reports that its review of documents suggests Google is testing a service using artificial intelligence technology to analyze patient records for Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S.

Risks to reputations

The Ketchum survey says all of this raises risks to brands’ reputations and their businesses when their business models make use of consumer data. It found overwhelming support for new legislation around privacy, which would include heavy fines when systems are breached. Fifty-nine percent of survey respondents also expressed support for antitrust action to break up large tech companies.

"We found two particularly fascinating takeaways in this year's study," said Melissa Kinch, managing director of Technology at Ketchum. "First, the same proportion of people – 66 percent – are worried about data privacy as are concerned about data security. This is a wake-up call for many brands who believe that cybersecurity is their biggest reputational risk when it comes to data and are in danger of leaving themselves vulnerable when it comes to privacy policies.”

Kinch says the second conclusion is that consumers don't trust brands when they say their data is safe, suggesting there has already been a significant erosion of trust as a result of high-profile privacy lapses.

More confidence in older institutions

Interestingly, consumers expressed the most confidence in companies that have a long history of maintaining and protecting data. For example, one-third of consumers in the survey expressed trust in health care providers to protect their data. Banks were a close second.

Consumers expressed the least amount of confidence in large technology companies and recent startups. Consumers also appear wary of social media apps, smart home devices, and search browsers.

Lisa Sullivan, director of Technology at Ketchum, says brands need to take note of this trend. Young consumers, especially, are increasingly concerned about privacy and expect the companies with which they deal to respect and protect it.

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