Public would cut ties with those who mishandle their personal data, survey finds

Three quarters of the public would end their relationship with a company or organisation which mishandled their personal data, an exclusive poll for PRWeek has found.

There are significant reputational risks for companies and organisations which mishandle the public's personal data, the survey found (pic credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)
There are significant reputational risks for companies and organisations which mishandle the public's personal data, the survey found (pic credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

With a week to go before the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in to law, PRWeek asked Atomik Research to survey more than 2,000 adults across the UK to assess public attitudes towards the use of their personal data.

Three quarters of the public told the survey they would discontinue their relationship with a company or organisation which had been proven to have mishandled their personal data, if it were possible.


Read next: Risks and opportunities for the industry of the biggest shake-up of personal data in a generation


The number rises to 79 per cent of men and rises again to 84 per cent of those aged 65 and over, while 81 per cent of 25-34 year olds said the same.

Asked if they were aware that the law around the use of personal data would change next week, 86 per cent of all respondents said they were, while in the regions, awareness was highest in the south west, at 90 per cent.

However, a little over half of all respondents said they thought the introduction of GDPR would make no difference to the safety of their personal data, while 37 per cent said they thought it would.

The fact that three-quarters of the public would be willing to discontinue their relationship with companies found to have mishandled their data shows that this a significant reputational issue.

Alice Goody, Atomik Research

Confidence in the efficacy of the new legislation was highest among 25-34 year olds, with 45 per cent telling the survey they thought their personal data would be safer.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has served to heighten the public’s awareness of how personal data can be used to manipulate their buying habits or political choices.

The survey found that nearly three quarters of the public said they were more aware of the issues around personal data since the scandal.

And the public’s attitudes to those who misuse their personal data have hardened, perhaps as a result of Cambridge Analytica, with 84 per cent telling the survey a company or organisation which did not store their data safely or used it for another purpose should be punished.

Respondents were asked if they would be more forgiving if a public sector organisation or a charity mishandled their data, but 69 per cent said they would not be.

This figure rose to 81 per cent among those aged over 65.

But companies and organisations should take heart from some of the findings of the survey.

Respondents were asked if their opinion of a company or organisation would be enhanced if it was proven to manage data well, with nearly two thirds telling the survey it would.

Once again, young adults aged 25-34 were shown to be the most likely to reward or punish companies and organisations based on their use of personal data, with 82 per cent of them telling the survey their opinion would be enhanced.

Significant reputational issue

Alice Goody, project manager at Atomik Research, told PRWeek: "As GDPR looms, the consumer research highlights just how much is at stake for businesses that fail to protect their customer’s personal data. The fact that three-quarters of the public would be willing to discontinue their relationship with companies found to have mishandled their data shows that this a significant reputational issue."

Goody said charities and public sector organisations should be mindful that they would not get a free ride from the public regarding personal data.

She added: "For public sector organisations and charities, the potential for reputational damage is just as high, with just a minority of people saying they would be more tolerant of data misuses by these companies. Luckily, the repercussions can work both ways – and those who establish excellent practices will benefit from an enhanced reputation in the eyes of the consumer."

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