Privacy concerns alienate citizens from govt digital services

Tuesday, 09 March, 2021

Privacy concerns alienate citizens from govt digital services

Governments providing increased online services run the risk of alienating large numbers of their citizens due to concerns around data privacy, according to an EY survey of 12,000 respondents across 12 countries. Conducted by Ipsos MORI, the survey further reveals a roadmap for governments attempting to deal with the increased digitisation of services brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted governments to offer more services remotely, with some services delivered entirely online. This has resulted in the generation of much larger volumes of citizens’ data, which is then collected by governments. However, 53% of respondents say that privacy and security risks around how their data is shared outweigh the benefits, while 46% say data should not be shared between the public and private sector; only 29% believe it should be shared. Almost three-quarters of respondents (72%) are opposed to governments selling their personal data to a private-sector company, even where the objective is to fund better public services or tax cuts.

Arnauld Bertrand, EY Global Government and Public Sector Consulting Leader, said the survey findings should be a wake-up call for governments.

“The benefits of a more digital state, including increased efficiency, better value for taxpayers and better quality of service for citizens, will be significantly reduced if large segments of the population aren't convinced of them and are at risk of disengaging from increasingly digitised public services. Many individuals could potentially be alienated, which could quickly become a dangerous problem for citizens, governments and society as a whole,” said Bertrand.

While 72% of respondents believe that technology improves quality of life, many have concerns about its broader impact; 32% stated that technology will lead to greater social inequality, while 34% said that technology gives more power to those who are already rich and powerful.

There are also concerns around the impact of increased reliance on technology as a means for communication on social cohesion. Globally, 32% of citizens believe technology will make people feel less connected to their communities. However, demand still exists to further develop people’s digital skills, with 61% of respondents saying they would be likely to use government training schemes to improve their digital skills, if they are available.

Bertrand noted that digitisation is here to stay, acknowledging the positive impacts of technology during the pandemic when it helped improve public services, maintain social connections and keep countries working. However, Bertrand warns that there is a long way to go to communicate these benefits to citizens and address their concerns.

“In a more connected world, some of the most vulnerable groups are at risk of becoming more isolated through the loss of physical support networks. Governments should demonstrate that they can be trusted to deliver safe, secure and improved digital services that will benefit all citizens. Just as importantly, they need to bring their citizens with them; access and skills are just as vital as the services being available in the first place,” said Bertrand.

Survey respondents were segmented into seven personas: Aspirational Technophiles, Capable Achievers, Diligent Strivers, Tech Sceptics, Privacy Defenders, Passive Outsiders and Struggling Providers. These categories offer insights into how governments should consider working with different social groups. The personas also give insights into the perspectives of certain demographics around fundamental issues, such as immigration, climate change and globalisation.

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