Most Brits willing to trade privacy for robust COVID-19 contact tracing efforts

A new survey has found that a majority of Brits are willing to forego their privacy to help set up a robust COVID-19 contact tracing system that can prevent the spread of the virus.

This was among a number of eye-opening findings of a survey from Okta that was covered in the firm's Cost of Privacy: Reporting on the State of Digital Identity in 2020 report published in June. The survey found that 60% of Brits are willing to share their location information and other details to help fight the viral outbreak, compared to just 47% of Germans and 48% of U.S. citizens.

A large number of countries have developed or are developing optimised smartphone-based contact tracing applications to trace individuals who have come into contact with infected individuals and to determine the effectiveness of vaccines. However, the arrival of contact tracing apps has also raised privacy concerns with many alleging that such apps are deeply intrusive and are collecting large amounts of personal information from the general public.

However, for 60% of Brits, the fight against the pandemic is a larger issue than the question of their individual privacy. While 60% of Brits believe smartphone-based data tracking will be effective in containing the virus, 66% are comfortable with offering their data to help determine where the virus is spreading, and 58% are willing to share their data to help determine if a vaccine is effective.

A vast majority of Brits are concerned about the misuse of their personal data by organisations

This does not, however, mean that Brits are not worried about the security of their personal data. According to the survey, as many as 84% of Brits are worried that their contact tracing data will be used by organisations for purposes unrelated to Covid-19. Up to 79% are also worried that organisations may use their data to serve personalised ads in the future.

"It’s great to see that despite privacy concerns, UK citizens are willing to provide their data in order to aid containment of Covid-19. However, it’s important that this trust is not abused," said Jesper Frederiksen, Okta vice-president, and general manager EMEA.

"Over half (58%) of British citizens want a limit on who can access this data and many (46%) want a time limit on how long it can be tracked. Those collecting this data need to ensure they restrict who can access it and what it is used for," he added.

The survey revealed deep concerns among the British public with respect to organisations collecting their personal information. While over 75% of the British public is uncomfortable with the idea of companies collecting data like offline conversations, biometric data, and passwords, 82% are worried about the fact that their data may not be stored or processed securely by companies.

"Businesses need to be more transparent about what data they’re collecting, how it’s stored, and where it’s being used if they want to improve trust. We need to start having open and honest conversations about data tracking. Businesses require data to innovate and improve, but by not disclosing relevant information, they risk losing customers altogether," Frederiksen added.

These findings are in line with the findings of a study carried out by Censuswide on behalf of Anomali that revealed that nearly half of the British public did not trust the UK government to keep their information safe from hackers.

The study found that while 43% were concerned that the UK's contact tracing app would give cyber criminals the opportunity to send smishing messages or phishing emails, 33% were concerned that the app might allow the government to track their whereabouts, and 36% were concerned that the app might allow the government to collect data on them.

MORE ABOUT: