Privacy & permission required for public data

Governments need to be transparent and respectful in how they handle consumer data

Tags: Big dataPrivacy
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Privacy & permission required for public data Government organisations need to ensure that citizens are comfortable with how they handle their data. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  May 10, 2016

A recent survey has highlighted an interesting paradox in public attitudes towards information safety, namely that while an increasing number of people are worried about security and what organisations might do with their data, they are not very good at protecting their data, and they will share it if they think they will benefit from sharing.

The survey found that 92% of respondents were worried that personal data collected by smart home systems could be stolen by hackers. At the same time, 54% of people might be willing to share that same personal data with companies in exchange for money, and 70% would swap it for coupons or discounts.

In another infamous experiment, researchers stopped strangers in the street and convinced them to exchange their work login data - including passwords - in exchange for candy bars.

The research highlights that while the average end user is slack about security, they are concerned about privacy, and they are increasingly gaining an understanding of the value of their data. Canny consumers don't necessarily want organisations to be able to use their private data any way they like, but if there is a reward or benefit for them, then they are a lot more open to sharing.

The implications for smart government are obvious - customer data needs to be treated with respect, or else the customer will stop sharing it.

Many smart initiatives rely on sharing of data among agencies and organisations. Interactive, personalised services are dependent on leveraging personal data to tailor services to the user. An often-cited potential smart service is the hotel reception that knows a guest is about to check-in, because the immigration authority at the airport has automatically notified them that the guest has passed passport control. The hotel can then prepare the guest's meal based on their preferences taken from data generated by past visits to the hotel or a customer loyalty scheme. But neither of these services will work if the customer becomes uncomfortable with data sharing and decides to stop.

In some cases, users are obliged to hand over data, but that should not be taken as a mandate for government to do what it likes with it. Organisations need to be transparent about how they use data, respect data that should be kept private and be responsible in using the data that they have permission to share - as long as the user knows they are getting some benefit from sharing, then they will be happy to carry on sharing.

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