Stats Watch: A matter of trust

The Privacy Act is likely to create something of a cultural gap between New Zealand and the US, if local consumers were to be asked whether they trust companies with their personal data, suggests the Consumers' Institute.

The Privacy Act is likely to create something of a cultural gap between New Zealand and the US, if local consumers were to be asked whether they trust companies with their personal data, suggests the Consumers’ Institute.

Kiwi consumers also have good recourse if that trust is broken, notes institute chief executive David Russell.

The Consumers' Institute hasn't done any research on whether people trust corporates handling their data, but Forrester Research notes that Americans are highly suspicious of companies that say they won’t share or sell personal data to others. At least half the respondents to a Forrester poll didn’t believe a company wouldn’t sell or share their personal data with other companies, or never contact them.

US consumers rate their employer as the organisation they trusted most with their personal information, followed by police, banks and the postal service. Rock bottom were online retailers – perhaps justifiably so, given that Yahoo’s move to unilaterally change users’ preferences for receiving its marketing material to “yes” is only one of the most recent in a ungainly stumble of online personal data faux pas.

Are consumers’ concerns about info-leaky etailers linked to online fraud? A UK study found a massive 97% of online retailers were victims of credit or debit card fraud last year, costing £96m. But despite the obvious threat, the study found that only 28% of online retailers bother to make manual checks to see if a card has been reported stolen.

However, Russell brings a note of realism to the figures, suggesting that while media reports of online fraud were a reflection of real public concern, reliable online retailers are likely to have more safeguards in place than an negligent bricks-and-mortar merchant. Much of the concern surrounds the security of online payment systems rather than the etailers themselves, he says. Consumers run an appreciable risk simply going to a restaurant on a Saturday night, Russell says.

Are you careful with individuals’ personal data? Email Mark Broatch.

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