Young consumers are more likely to exercise data rights

New survey finds consumers aged 18-24 are most likely to take deliberate action to protect their privacy

Networking technology giant Cisco today published its global survey of consumers’ attitudes and behaviours on data privacy. 

Data protection laws give individuals a right to access information companies hold on them. The survey of 2,600 adults in 12 countries, including the UK, reveals that younger consumers are taking action to protect their privacy with 42% asking organisations about the personal data they have on them. 

The UK has one of the highest awareness of privacy laws with 63% of consumers aware of their privacy rights. Your rights allow you to make a subject access request under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to find out what personal information an organisation holds about you and how this information is being used. 

Cisco’s survey found that more consumers, particularly young people, are also taking action to protect their privacy – 19% of consumers requested data changes or deletions this year compared to 14% last year. Nearly a third of 18-24 year olds had done this.

Liz Coll, digital rights expert and class representative for the Google Play Store claim told Consumer Voice:

‘It’s no surprise to see so many young people taking more care of their data privacy, we’ve seen this trend developing for a long time. I think the narrative about people not caring about their privacy when use services that rely on data sharing is a convenient narrative that has been pushed by big tech and now pretty much all digital services because using our data is how they make their money.

But younger people – particularly teenagers – behave differently and are probably appalled about, for example, what their parents have shared about them on Facebook – like all their birthday celebrations and even ultrasound pictures of themselves in the womb. They’re behaving differently as a result; they’re the generation that adopted Snapchat with its disappearing messages, and are locking down their accounts on Instagram.’

Figure 1: Consumers’ data subject access requests

Young consumers championing data privacy rights

A third of consumers said they care about their privacy, are willing to act to protect it and have acted by, for example, switching companies or providers because of concerns about data policies or data sharing practices. 

Thirty-two percent of consumers said they had exercised their rights to inquire about data. Younger consumers are the most willing to take action to protect their privacy with 42% saying they had asked organisations about the personal data they have on them, this compares to just 6% of consumers 75 years and over. See figure 1.

When it comes to requesting data changes or deletions, 19% of consumers had made these requests compared to 14% last year. Again, it was younger consumers who were most likely to do this with 32% of 18-24 years olds who had done this – compared to 28% of 25-34 year olds, 24% of 35-44 year olds, 15% of 45-54 year olds, 8% of 55-74 year olds and 4% of 75 year olds and over.

Coll said: ‘I’m really pleased to see in the survey that as well as using privacy settings, people are using tools like data subject access requests and deletions. This is great and shows there’s an opportunity here to encourage people to take up these tools.’

Data protection scandals

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has so far this year issued fines to 15 companies for breaching data protection laws. In April, it fined TikTok £12.7 million for misusing children’s data and breaking data protection laws by allowing more than one million UK children under 13 to use the platform without parental consent.

Last week, Consumer Voice reported on a number of lawsuits lining up on behalf of people who have been affected by a massive data breach following a cyber attack on outsourcing company Capita by criminal ransomware gang, Black Basta, in March 2023. Capita is used by a large number of public and private organisations and handles the information of millions of people – including many company pension schemes administered through Capita.

Consumer concerns about AI privacy

Nearly half of consumers (48%) agree that artificial intelligence (AI) can be useful in improving their lives – from everything from shopping and streaming services to healthcare. And just over half (54%) said they are willing to share their anonymised personal data to help improve AI products and decision-making.

Nevertheless, 62% of surveyed consumers expressed concern about how organisations are using their personal data for AI today, with 60% saying that they have already lost trust in organisations because of their AI use. 

Improving education about privacy and data rights

Many consumers look to the government to set the standard of care and enforce privacy protections. Half (50%) of respondents said the national or local government should have the primary role in protecting data, whereas 21% said private companies should be primarily responsible for protecting data.

Cisco vice president, deputy general counsel and chief privacy officer Harvey Jang said: ‘As governments pass laws and companies seek to build trust, consumers must also take action and use technology responsibly to protect their own privacy.’ 

Coll sees a wider role for governments and businesses: ‘I’m really encouraged to see results that indicate people are taking lots of different types of action to protect themselves but it’s also down to governments to hold businesses to account for the misuse of data and for companies to make it much easier to offer different ways of giving us digital services.’

‘We must remember this is a global survey and the imperative to keep your private life safe is really critical for many. For example, if you’re a gay young person in a conservative country or with an authoritarian government where you could face imprisonment then you’re not going to want to share your personal data just on the promise that you’ll get tailored services in return.

Organisations and companies are responsible for the security of their customers’ data. You can find out more about your data rights on the ICO’s website – including how to get copies of your data using subject access requests, how to make a data protection complaint and how to get your data corrected.  

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