Few Approve of Private Firms Reusing COVID-19 Data

Companies can ease some consumer worries with safeguards like data stewards and ethics counsels, our survey shows.

In seeking to contain the spread of the coronavirus, governments and research and medical institutions have created contact-tracing tools fueled by the mobile location data of volunteers. Some, like Australia, have also used data from telecommunications companies and transport apps to trace citizens’ movements and compliance with social-distancing measures.

But as more and more data is collected, the question of how it can be reused for other purposes arises. According to a six-nation survey conducted by the Oliver Wyman Forum, many are hesitant to have their data reused for purposes other than pandemic prevention or better personal healthcare. Even the possibility of gaining financial benefits or better goods and services didn’t sway most respondents. 

Add private companies to the mix and the level of discomfort grows. More than 40 percent of respondents, on average, said they don’t trust private firms to act in their best interest. Apprehensions over privacy, cybersecurity breaches, and the prospect that their data could be used for a firm’s profit were also among the main reasons why people were uncomfortable with the idea. By contrast, relatively few said they were concerned about not being compensated for their data.

Companies have a long way to go in building trust with consumers. Nearly half of all survey respondents claim they would never be comfortable with a private firm reusing their information. Yet there are some steps firms can take to make consumers more receptive.

Consulting people about the uses of their data, employing an “ethics counsel” of independent experts to review reusing personal information, or having a dedicated “data steward” within a firm to be accountable for reusing that data made some survey respondents more willing to share data with private firms. 

More insights from the Oliver Wyman Forum’s six-nation survey on data-sharing attitudes during the COVID-19 pandemic are available here.