Support for Data-Sharing Is Highly Conditional

People are more willing to share information if it’s for a specific purpose.

September 10, 2020
An over the shoulder view of a woman using a car-sharing app on her smartphone.

Support for data-sharing has declined in many countries since the outbreak of the pandemic, but it remains significant. What the crisis has shown is that for many people, whether to share data isn’t a binary question answered by a simple yes or no. Instead it involves a sophisticated weighing of public and personal interests and values.

Consider the matter of privacy. In a seven-nation survey, the Oliver Wyman Forum asked people whether they believed privacy is paramount and we should not let the crisis change our standards for protecting it, or whether they would be prepared to use a tracking app from a trusted authority to help control the virus. American and French respondents put privacy first by a wide margin, followed to a lesser degree by Germans. But opinion was almost evenly divided in Britain, Spain, and Australia, while Singaporeans favored app use by a healthy margin.

That uneven support for tracking apps suggests that the specific nature of the challenge and the utility of data-sharing in solving it are critical for winning over public opinion. 

Contrast that result with the separate question of whether data already collected for one purpose should be shared to help meet societal challenges, or whether any data re-use harms individual rights. On this point, opinion is pretty uniform. Respondents in all countries supported the view that data re-use harms individual rights, with those in the US, UK, and France doing so by a margin of more than two to one. That strongly suggests that views about data-sharing are conditional, and people are reluctant to give anyone a blank check to use their information.