Report: Consumers Want Increasingly More Control of the Data They Share

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Personal data is the new currency of the digital economy, but consumers want to know that their information is kept secure and well-used in the cognitive era.

Generating insight from personal data can bring tremendous benefits to both individuals and organizations. Enormous amounts of personal information is gathered, analyzed and secured.

This is where trust comes in.

Communications Service Providers (CSPs) have the luxury of being among the most trusted organizations for personal data security by consumers. Yet as more data is collected and transacted, the likelihood of a breach escalates. Cyber attacks make consumers uneasy about the privacy and security of their personal information.

Trust in the organizations that collect and maintain personal data is decreasing, particularly in developed countries. Consumers are caught in the middle between organizations that need (or want) their data for mutually beneficial reasons — and malicious forces that want to steal it.

A new research report from the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) found that 82 percent of surveyed consumers said they want at least moderate control of the data they share with their provider, while 92 percent want to know that their provider is keeping their personal data private and secure.

While digital trust has become a key factor in the depth of relationship between consumers and their providers, a single security lapse can seriously erode that trust.

Personal data is vast and continuously changing. Most data — or about 85 percent — of data is unstructured, such as the data hidden in videos and sensors. While traditional approaches could not, cognitive computing technology can fully extract the value of such data.

The recent report from the IBV highlights the strong trust position CSPs occupy among consumers. The IBV interviewed almost 21,000 consumers in 42 countries about how they feel about their CSPs. The study found that consumers fell into three categories based upon whether they are willing to share data, or take defensive actions to avoid giving away personal information:

1) Consistently trustful: This group is worried, but not alarmed. They understand the seriousness of data breaches, but do not believe the situation is as bad as media coverage implies. This group tends to be a bit lax in protecting against abuse of personal data.

2) Increasingly suspicious: These consumers are very suspicious about how CSPs handle personal data and are not certain the data can — or will be be — kept secure. Increasing media attention to data hacks and cyber attacks, as well as the potential of big data to enable CSPs to know so much about customers, results in even less trust. This group goes to significant length to protect access to data, such as deleting or blocking cookies and using different web browsers.

3) Trustful-but-worried: This group is the most positive about how they can benefit from sharing data. They have a high trust in CSPs, and their trust continues to grow. They say they benefit from data sharing by getting better services, products or experiences. However, they worry about how CSPs handle their data and are concerned that CSPs will sell their data to third parties. As a result, they try to control access to their personal data as much as possible.

Each of these groups takes a different view about the relative importance of the three fundamentals of digital trust: transparency, the value of sharing personal data and security. CSPs must evaluate how the the three groups value these attributes of trust to respond accordingly.

With the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), protecting consumers’ data is more urgent than ever. IoT devices can be used to collect huge amounts of personal information. However, hackers have the potential to disturb society by abusing personal data stored on connected devices. The IBV recommends that CSPs invest in cognitive technology both to analyze the vast amounts of structured and unstructured data, as well as to provide insights and recommendations around emerging threats.

Securing multiple IoT devices, whether it’s a smart watch, a healthcare devices or a smart TV in a home, is fundamental to the success of the IoT. CSPs can play a central role in maintaining security by cooperating with others in the IoT ecosystem.

Global Telecommunications Industry Lead, IBM Institute for Business Value

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