Privacy concerns as 84% of UK citizens believe their contact tracing data will be used for purposes unrelated to COVID-19

Data concern over coronavirus

New research from Okta finds that despite worries on how data will be used, the UK is generally willing to give up personal information to aid containment of the virus.

Okta, Inc., the leading independent provider of identity for the enterprise, today launched The Cost of Privacy: Reporting on the State of Digital Identity in 2020 report, which examines public perceptions of digital privacy.

The research surveyed 12,000 online consumers globally, including 2,218 in the UK, to determine whether individuals are happy with their data being tracked, particularly for the cause of helping to contain COVID-19.

Distrust in data tracking

Okta’s research found that most UK citizens (81%) are aware of efforts to track COVID-19 through smartphone data collection. The pandemic has also increased awareness of data tracking efforts for almost a third of respondents (32%), likely due to media reportage on the topic. But 84% are worried that their contact tracing data will be used by organisations for purposes unrelated to COVID-19.

Advertising is cited as the top purpose, with over three-quarters (79%) worried about their data being used by organisations to serve personalised ads. However, tailored content does not deter everyone. 30% find it acceptable for data to be tracked in order to improve the user experience, while 26% are happy to be shown suggested content they may be interested in.

Most UK respondents are uncomfortable with the idea of companies collecting their data, particularly offline conversations overheard by devices (82%), passwords (79%) and biometric data (77%). 82% are also worried their data will be held insecurely, in addition to concerns about sacrificing too much privacy (76%) and impacting finances, such as insurance premiums (62%).

“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,” commented Jesper Frederiksen, VP & GM EMEA at Okta. “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.”

In some cases, consumers are unaware of which of their data is being collected. A third (33%) do not think their employer collects any data on them, in addition to news outlets (36%), streaming services (20%) and consumer hardware providers (19%).

“Ignorance can be bliss, but in reality, personal information is being collected from all directions,” added Frederiksen. “Regulations like GDPR attempt to give people some control over their data, but it can be challenging to understand what our digital identities consist of, how they are used and what kind of data is collected. As only one-fifth (21%) of consumers admit to reading terms and conditions, companies should perhaps explore additional methods to make their data tracking known.”

Helping the cause

Despite concerns, the UK is generally willing to give up data in order to aid containment of COVID-19, and more so than other countries across the globe. 60% of UK respondents said they would be comfortable in providing location data to help the cause, with this figure much lower in countries such as the Netherlands (45%), Germany (47%), the US (48%) and Australia (49%).


Read More: COVID-19 apps pose threat to digital privacy


Brits are comfortable with their data being collected for purposes including determining where the virus is spreading (66%), tracking who diagnosed individuals have come into contact with (61%) and determining if a vaccine is effective (58%). Over half (60%) of UK respondents also believe smartphone-based data tracking will be effective in containing the virus.

“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. 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,” said Frederiksen.

Younger generations want their privacy…

When looking at specific age groups, millennials and generation Z are much more concerned about how their data is used in comparison to their older counterparts.

Almost three-quarters (74%) of those aged 18-34 are worried about law enforcement having access to their data, a figure which shrinks to 47% of over 55s. 84% of 18-34-year-olds are also worried about sacrificing their privacy, higher than the combined average of those aged over 35 (72%).

“Millennials and gen Z are digitally-savvy generations and consequently are more aware of how their data could be used and abused,” added Frederiksen. “Organisations need to remember that these generations are increasingly filling business roles and will also become the decision-makers of the future. For businesses to attract and retain this talent, good and transparent data practices are a must.”

…but at what cost?

The majority (94%) of UK respondents are uncomfortable with the thought of their data being sold. Yet 36% would be willing to share data with companies if they were financially compensated, a figure which rises to 52% of 18-34s.

Consumers are most willing to sell purchase history (63%), location data (62%), browsing history (59%) and details of their online media consumption (59%). However, there are some areas they draw the line, with fewer willing to sell passwords (31%), offline conversations (33%) and biometric data (33%).

“It’s clear there is a cost when it comes to privacy. The question is how much,” said Frederiksen. “Okta’s research shows that consumers would generally be willing to accept between £10 and £50 for their location data (31%) or browsing history (30%). Surprisingly, 10% would be willing to give away their password data for under £30. If companies can strike a balance between privacy and innovation, consumers can have control over their data, including where it goes and whether they’re compensated, while companies can still build products that benefit the world.”


Privacy Concerns, Data, Privacy concerns as 84% of UK citizens believe their contact tracing data will be used for purposes unrelated to COVID-19

Matthew Hughes

Editor in Chief at Top Business Tech, digital marketing lecturer, and previously creative director at Aurora Demand. A fan of all things marketing, tech and mindful.

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