Privacy and security concerns in today's remote world

Johannesburg, 05 Nov 2020
Read time 4min 20sec
Garsen Naidu, general manager, Cisco, Sub Saharan Africa.
Garsen Naidu, general manager, Cisco, Sub Saharan Africa.

With the COVID-19 pandemic having brought about significant changes in how we work, play, live and learn, issues around data protection and privacy have become exceptionally complex – and consumers are concerned.

This is one of the key findings of the recently published Cisco 2020 Consumer Privacy Survey, undertaken by 2 600 participants from 12 countries across Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas in June 2020.

“The importance of protecting individuals’ personal information in today’s highly connected world has long been recognised,” says Garsen Naidu, general manager for sub Saharan Africa at Cisco.

“However, the research suggests that privacy is not only a regulatory issue – although most consumers expect their governments to take the lead in protecting their data – but also a consumer priority. This has serious implications for the businesses that serve them.”

The survey found that there is a distinct cadre of consumers – around 30% of the participants – who take action against companies that they believe are not protecting their data and privacy. Such consumers have ended their relationships with these companies, even those they regard as long-standing and important. Affected organisations range from social media companies (32%) and Internet service providers (ISPs) to retail companies (26%), banks and other financial institutions (22%), phone providers (21%) and a credit card company (21%).

“The pandemic, however, has brought an interesting new dynamic to the privacy and security of personal information debate. Key among these is that individual privacy rights are increasingly having to be weighed against the public good,” Garsen says.

For example, governments require personal health information as well as people’s movement and contact data to control the spread of the virus. At the same time, employers need personal health information to create a safe workplace for those employees who are unable to work remotely.

In addition, organisations are having to find ways to enable their employees to be secure, connected and productive from anywhere while simultaneously having to interact remotely with far larger numbers of customers, suppliers and partners than ever before.

“However, while recognising that COVID-19 and remote working have created a set of new privacy challenges, consumers largely continue to want their information to be protected,” Garsen says.

Most of the survey participants viewed their country’s current privacy laws favourably or impartially. Only 38% of the German participants were happy with their country’s privacy laws while those in China (80%) and India (79%) were most supportive of their country’s laws. In fact, only 2% of the participants in China were negative about their country’s privacy laws, as were 1% in both France and Italy and 3% in the UK.

Just 10% of the participants believed that privacy laws should take a back seat to the pandemic. On the other hand, more than a third said they did not support a relaxation of privacy laws owing to the pandemic and another 26% supported only limited exceptions to privacy laws.

It was interesting to note that almost half of the participants supported location tracking, and 37% were in favour of disclosing information about infected individuals.

Nevertheless, 31% of the participants expressed concern that data shared during the pandemic would be used for unrelated purposes; 25% were worried that it would be shared too broadly with third parties; and 24% were concerned that the data would not be deleted or anonymised when no longer needed to combat the pandemic.

Within the workplace, over half (57%) of the participants believe employers should be able to request employee health information to ensure a safe workforce, despite the fact that at the time the survey was undertaken, a very high percentage (81%) indicated that they were currently working or studying remotely.

Unsurprisingly, those who were working or studying remotely were more concerned about the privacy protections associated with the tools they were using to support these remote interactions: only 13% said they were not concerned at all while 60% were moderately or very concerned.

Despite the participants’ generally positive feelings about their country’s privacy laws, consumers seem to feel somewhat helpless when it comes to protecting their data, with almost half of the participants (47%) believing they are unable to adequately protect their data. Of these, the vast majority (79%) said it’s because they don’t understand what companies are doing with their data; 51% believed they just have to accept how their data is used if they want the service; and 45% believed personal data was already available.

“The survey shows the challenge for businesses is to provide as much transparency as possible to customers on what data they collect, how they use it, and how they protect it. Businesses should also do whatever they can to promote understanding of privacy regulations because, when consumers understand what protections they have, they are more comfortable with sharing their data when requested,” Garsen concludes. 

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