Whether it’s Zoom calls, online shopping, the government’s test and trace efforts, or the recent exam results controversy, it’s clear that digital services and initiatives – and the data protection challenges they pose – will continue to be a cornerstone of our personal and working lives in the time of COVID-19.

Last week the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) published the results of its 2020 Annual Track survey. Conducted on a yearly basis on a sample of around 2000 people, the study is intended to:

  • gauge the general public’s awareness and perceptions of their information rights;
  • monitor any change in public trust and confidence in organisations handling                  personal data; and
  • measure public perception of the ICO itself.

Set out below is a selection of the most interesting findings from the 2020 survey, which was conducted during lockdown.

Awareness of rights and enforcement: Those surveyed showed some interest in exercising their personal data protection rights, although the majority were unsure how to do so. 56% of those surveyed had not heard of the ICO, although most of the remaining 44% knew of the ICO’s role as the UK regulator for data protection. It is clear that the ICO still has some work to do to boost its own profile in line with the general increase in awareness of individual information rights post-GDPR.

A shift away from extremes: Since the 2019 survey, levels of trust and confidence in organisations handling personal data have shifted significantly towards the middle ground, as the proportions of those claiming both high and low trust and confidence have decreased. Interestingly, although the study was carried out in June 2020, the majority (74%) of those surveyed stated that their levels of trust and confidence had not been affected by the COVID-19 lockdown.

The winners and losers: Levels of trust and confidence in the NHS, local health services, financial services and mobile, broadband and utility providers have increased year-on-year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, social media platforms continue to score poorly, with only 4% of respondents citing high levels of trust and confidence.

Key concerns: Fraud, scams and unauthorised sharing of personal data with third parties were the issues of most concern to those surveyed. Opinion was split on willingness to exchange personal data for some benefit (such as the ability to access websites for free), but a clear majority were not happy to receive contact from companies they had not dealt with before where those companies had purchased their details or obtained them from publicly available information.

Transparent and fair handling of data will be front of mind for many who are finding themselves increasingly reliant on digital products and services. It will be interesting to see how the results of the survey inform the ICO’s priorities and approach as we move towards the next phase of these unprecedented times.