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Privacy Perspectives | Study: Consumers are taking more active role in protecting their privacy Related reading: Incident response ROI: Using benchmarking data to secure budget, prove value



Consumers around the world are increasingly taking action to protect their data, by exercising their data rights under existing privacy laws or by no longer buying from organizations that don’t properly protect their data. They are highly supportive of existing privacy laws and support little or no relaxation in privacy protections to respond to the ongoing health crisis. They are also very concerned about the use of personal data in many artificial intelligence applications.

These are some of the findings from the recently released Cisco 2021 Consumer Privacy Survey, which draws on 2600 anonymous responses across 12 countries.

Consumers want transparency and control

Nearly half of survey respondents feel they are unable to protect their personal data today, and the top reason cited is that companies aren’t being clear about how they are using this data. It’s perhaps not surprising that nearly one-third have become “privacy actives,” including switching companies or providers over their data practices. This includes leaving traditional companies like retail stores, banks and credit card companies. In addition, 25% have made inquiries to organizations about their data and 17% have requested changes or deletions to this data.

Privacy laws viewed very positively, but awareness remains low

Most respondents want their national or local governments to play a lead role with respect to protecting data privacy. Perhaps not surprisingly then, 60% felt their country’s privacy laws are having a positive impact, versus only 4% who said they are having a negative impact. However, only 43% overall are aware of these laws. Awareness varies significantly by country, from 25% in Japan to 70% in India. Interestingly, those who are aware of the privacy laws are much more likely to feel they can protect their data effectively.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, most consumers want little or no reduction in privacy protections.

While there is less support for location tracking or disclosure of information about infected individuals, most respondents agree with efforts to create safe environments. Sixty percent support employers requiring vaccination status before employees can access the workplace, and 62% feel similarly regarding creating safe personal environments.

Consumers are very concerned about the use of personal data in AI

Seventy-two percent believe organizations have a responsibility to use AI only in an ethical manner, and 56% are very concerned about its use today. We tested several typical AI use cases (e.g., marketing, determining creditworthiness, setting prices) and found that many consumers, ranging from 37% to 55% for the various use cases, would trust organizations less that engaged in these activities.

Recommendations for organizations

This research suggests privacy continues to be a high priority for consumers, and organizations need to do their part to protect personal data and build consumer confidence in how this data is used. Some of these recommendations for organizations include:

  • Providing clear communications on how you use customer data. The top concern among consumers is not knowing how their data is being used. Organizations can help alleviate this concern with easily understood explanations about how data is used in your products and services.
  • Building awareness of your country’s privacy protections and regulations. Customers who know about these laws understand there are limits to how their data is being used, and they have more confidence their data is safe.
  • Working to design back-to-office policies that provide a safe work environment while protecting and respecting individual rights and privacy.
  • Proceeding thoughtfully when using personal data in automated decision-making that affects customers. Positive steps organizations can take include designing and building with a responsible framework by design, establishing ethical governance over your AI program and providing transparency on when and how you are using automated decision-making.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

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