A survey of data protection attitudes in the UK has shown consumers are taking matters into their own hands to protect their personal data.

The survey, commissioned by the ICO, the UK's independent data protection regulator, shows only one in four people trust businesses with their personal information.

But it also shows consumers have a clear awareness of the action they can take to protect their own personal data. Seven in ten regularly check bank and credit card statements for irregular activity, while more than half also keep their computer protected from viruses, shred personal documents, use different passwords for different online services and limit how much info they share on social media.

The survey shows that while 53% of people said they trusted High Street banks with their information, that dropped to 36% for Government departments, 32% for High Street retailers and 22% for internet brands.

People’s concerns were focused on their information being stolen by criminals, used to make nuisance calls or sold to other companies for marketing.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said:

Consumers are taking up the fight to protect their own personal data. We all need the services offered to us by banks and shops and internet companies, even if we are perhaps not entirely trusting of what they are doing with our data, and so consumers are taking their own action to respond to that.

“This ought to be a real wake up call to some sectors. Consumer mistrust is never good for business.

“What’s more, if these customers’ concerns are well-placed, and organisations aren’t handling personal data properly they may be leaving themselves open to significant fines from the regulator.

“We’ve issued fines of more than £6million for data protection offences so far, and that’s only going to rise. New rules in place from 2018 give us the power to fine up to 4% of global turnover, which ought to focus the minds of any boardroom.

"There’s increasing evidence of consumers taking steps to avoid aggressive marketing. Our survey shows that concerns around people’s information being used to market products to them ranks as one of the top consumer worries.

“We know people are responding to the nuisance of spam calls and texts, because we receive a wealth of complaints about these to our office every day, and have been able to take action amounting to more than £2million of fines in the past year.

“But the survey also shows action elsewhere, notably a quarter of people using ad blockers when they go online.”

The survey also showed:

  • A quarter of people have installed an ad blocker on their web browser or smartphone. 
  • 75% of people think it’s important that data protection is taught in schools.
  • More than one in ten people (13%) have requested a copy of their data from organisations.

Notes to editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000, Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
  3. The ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit. The ICO has the power to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
  4. Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:
    • fairly and lawfully processed;
    • processed for limited purposes;
    • adequate, relevant and not excessive;
    • accurate and up to date;
    • not kept for longer than is necessary;
    • processed in line with your rights;
    • secure; and
    • not transferred to other countries without adequate protection.
  5. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) sit alongside the Data Protection Act. They give people specific privacy rights in relation to electronic communications.
    1. There are specific rules on:
      • marketing calls, emails, texts and faxes;
      • cookies (and similar technologies);
      • keeping communications services secure; and
      • customer privacy as regards traffic and location data, itemised billing, line identification, and directory listings.
    2. We aim to help organisations comply with PECR and promote good practice by offering advice and guidance. We will take enforcement action against organisations that persistently ignore their obligations.
  6. Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
  7. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
  8. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns/.