Consumer Review: Consumer data under attack

A public sector perspective

Deloitte’s latest consumer research into awareness of cyber security threats has found that consumers are experiencing a growing number of security breaches and are becoming increasingly sceptical about government and corporate motives for collection and use of personal data.

Many of the innovations that drive efficiency and quality in today’s world bring with them increased security risk. For example, online banking is convenient and gives consumers greater control over their finances, but it makes a much more attractive target to cyber criminals than the days of chequebooks and branches. The same is true in government: as welfare, tax and healthcare systems move onto digital services, security must evolve at an equal pace.

The public sector is just as susceptible as retailers, telecoms companies and banks. Whilst social media companies topped the table for levels of consumer concern (with 63% worried), public sector organisations such as government and police still drew 43% of consumers to voice concern about data usage [p8 fig4]. This may be lower than the private sector but it is by no means a level that allows comfort or complacency.

Data from Symantec shows that the healthcare sector is actually top of all sectors for security breaches, with 42% of incidents coming from this group. The education sector has 11% and the rest of government has 9% – a total of 61% of all incidents therefore being in the public sector [p7 fig 3]. It is hard to know, however, the extent to which this is driven by higher levels of reporting and transparency compared to the private sector, as opposed to higher underlying levels of breach.

Our survey found that consumers increasingly use their buying power to move away from businesses that they don’t trust. One in three consumers would consider data loss sufficient cause to close accounts and reconsider using a company again [p12].

The public sector, however, has different market dynamics. In short it is often not possible for consumers to choose to do business elsewhere if they perceive their data is unsafe. Even areas of public service delivery with embedded competition are rarely fluid markets like those for media or banking. For example, the arrival of academies and free schools has introduced choice in education, and “choose & book” has introduced choice into NHS referrals, but often the choice is minimal. With just one or two options for a school or hospital, and services built on long-term relationships with teachers and doctors, switching provider is difficult and risky.

Government and public bodies experience failures of user trust in a different way: through media transparency and at the ballot box. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is getting increasingly robust around data protection, and the scrutiny mechanisms of Government such as the National Audit Office and Select Committees are more attuned. Significant data losses have ramifications for politicians at any level including Westminster, Holyrood, Local Authorities and PCCs.

Government not only has to worry about its own activities to protect data, but also its role in legislating and enforcing protections in the wider economy. An increasing number of consumers (68%) feel it is the governments’ responsibility to enforce online data protection and personal security, compared to 60% last year [p10 fig 6]. With upcoming European Commission (EC) regulation on data protection and privacy (the General Data Protection Regulation) coming into effect in 2017, consumers will have more control in protecting their data than before, but are likely to expect Government to take a similarly increased role in enforcing the regulations [p14].

Public services are being transformed onto digital delivery models, and citizens look more and more to Government to enforce protections on private sector business. Government needs to work hard so that it is ready to earn and retain the trust and buy-in of the public in our rapidly changing world.

The research featured in the Consumer Review is based on several consumer surveys carried out by independent market research agencies on behalf of Deloitte. The content highlighted in this page was extracted due to its relevance to Public Sector organisations. For a broader view, please see the full report.

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