Guest post from James Cook, National Technology Practice Head, Edelman China

It seems that there’s a fresh story around privacy and security issues every day, from consumers’ personal data held by a company being ‘hacked’ and exploited to privacy concerns around the collection, tracking and use of personal information by Governments and businesses the world over. So it is perhaps no surprise that a new study of consumers’ perception around these issues by Edelman has identified some large and growing trends that all businesses, from banks to grocers, from mobile phone operators to hospitals need to take heed of.

The study, Privacy & Security: The New Drivers of Brand, Reputation and Action Global Insights 2012, found that 70% of the consumers surveyed globally were more concerned about data security and privacy than 5 years ago. Furthermore, 68% agreed that, ‘consumers have lost control over how online personal information is shared and used by companies’, indicating that there is a trust gap between consumers and businesses who collect, store and use their personal data. This is borne out by the fact that 84% of respondents thought that the security of their personal information is important when online shopping, in stark contrast to the mere 33% who trust online retailers to protect it: a whopping 51 point gap.

Indeed, data breaches do affect consumers’ behaviour, enough to prompt people to indicate that they would change providers if there was unauthorised access to personal information, with financial services topping the list with 80% of people likely to switch banks, 77% likely to change online wallet services and 67% would consider leaving online social media networks.

It also appears that people are becoming more reluctant to participate in schemes that hold personal data, with one in five adults now refusing to join shopping loyalty programs and one in ten adults choosing not to bank online.

These are relatively low percentages of people who are choosing to opt out, but with the seemingly ever-increasing amount of personal data being collected and stored by organizations, it could become a growing trend. Certainly, companies must now seriously evaluate their data privacy and security policies and ensure that these issues do not erode or demolish the trust and reputation they enjoy from their stakeholders. And as we know in this age of social media, (bad) news travels fast. In fact, the survey found that following a data breach, 39% of people told a friend about it and almost a third of people surveyed posted online about it. Now is the time to take the necessary steps to implement and communicate the right policies, procedures and protocols to ensure that your next data loss or privacy issue won’t become the next trending story.

You can read more about the study here.