The vast majority of consumers are so worried about how businesses protect their personal data that they are being forced to take matters into their own hands because they simply do not believe organisations are up to the job.
That is according to a new survey of data protection attitudes, commissioned by the ICO, which reveals that only one in four people trust businesses with their personal information.
But it also shows consumers have a clear awareness of the action they can take to protect their own data. Seven in ten regularly check bank and credit card statements for irregular activity, while more than half also keep their computer protected from viruses, shred personal documents, use different passwords for different online services and limit how much info they share on social media.
When it comes to the organisations they trust most, high street banks came out on top, with 53% of people saying they trusted them with their information, that dropped to 36% for government departments, 32% for high street retailers and 22% for online brands.
People’s concerns were focused on their information being stolen by criminals, used to make nuisance calls or sold to other companies for marketing.
Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said: “Consumers are taking up the fight to protect their own personal data. We all need the services offered to us by banks and shops and Internet companies, even if we are perhaps not entirely trusting of what they are doing with our data, and so consumers are taking their own action to respond to that.
“This ought to be a real wake up call to some sectors. Consumer mistrust is never good for business.
“What’s more, if these customers’ concerns are well-placed, and organisations aren’t handling personal data properly they may be leaving themselves open to significant fines from the regulator.”
The ICO pointed out that under the EU General Data Protection Regulation it will have the power to fine companies up to 4% of global turnover for breaches of data protection rules.
It has already issued fines of more than £6m for data protection offences so far, but the new rules “ought to focus the minds of any boardroom”, Graham insisted.
He also highlighted increasing evidence of consumers taking steps to avoid aggressive marketing. Graham added: “Our survey shows that concerns around people’s information being used to market products to them ranks as one of the top consumer worries.
“We know people are responding to the nuisance of spam calls and texts, because we receive a wealth of complaints about these to our office every day, and have been able to take action amounting to more than £2m of fines in the past year.
“But the survey also shows action elsewhere, notably a quarter of people using ad blockers when they go online.”
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